Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Thru Fragments of Cinema: (New Years) Resolution

Life gains meaning through taking responsibility.

I’ve heard that a few times in my life in a few different contexts. The latest is from an unexpected source - my improv acting teacher. (A few months ago I capriciously decided to sign up for improv acting classes, inspired thru this article.) We witness great art, he claims, when characters own up and take responsibility for things. Part of it is the ability to admit you’re wrong and the willingness to be vulnerable in front of others. You can see it in the best actresses. The more that I think about it, the more I’m beginning to see that true beauty – at least in other people – lies in vulnerability. Good looks are important, but vulnerability underlies it. It’s what makes good looks look good, and it extends so much further. Consider

Back to taking responsibility. In order to judge a principle’s worth, Robert Pirsig (author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance) believed, you use the principle like a scalpel to divide and classify phenomena, and then you ask yourself whether you’ve made a clean deep cut. By these standards, the idea of taking responsibility seems meaningful. It makes a clean cut in my life.

But it’s not as obvious as it may seem. Another student in my improv class pointed out that Steven Speilberg’s main characters are notorious for doing everything except taking responsibility. They never change, they never do anything but just run around and have things happen to them. This really set my mind turning. I’m a sucker, you see, for good movies. There’s nothing better than a well-made film, and it’s not just about the explicit elements of character and plot, it’s about the visual and audio portrayal of human experience. That’s why Shakespeare rarely makes for great cinema and why black and white is rarely as good as color. Directors make up their own grammar in the style in which they make films. And Speilberg is one of the best at doing this.

But the student was completely right, I just hadn’t thought about it that way. And it’s not just Spielberg. A lot of films are chock-full of producing a range of experience all of which just swirl around the main character. This post was partly inspired by a review of the movie The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (an intelligently shot and edited film which, I believe, fell way over top-side from a gimmicky story that went on for too long). Here are some snippets from the review. Consider how many other films the criticism could apply to.

Button is the star of the film, but also its least interesting, least developed character, a soothing blank of a protagonist who seems to want little, feel nothing, and never have anything to say.

Most of the scenes in the movie consist of Pitt giving pleasantly docile looks while others blather on. During one fairly long scene with a woman he's having an affair with, Button utters a total of three lines, two of which consist of only two words: "You make me feel young." "What mistakes?" And finally, "I'm freezing." Later, he's asked about his years of travels, and the only answer he provides is, "I saw some things." Which is accurate enough: he's an observer, a cipher, a blank screen, but nothing more.

Though the movie stretches past the two and a half mark, and Button is in every scene, it is impossible to say anything specific about him, except that he appears to desire Daisy. Button is not merely generic, he is utterly empty, like one of those carefully wrapped fake Christmas gifts displayed under a department store tree.

These points can apply to every other film produced these days. And I have to admit they apply to some of my favorites.

Consider Tom Hank's empty expressions throughout Forest Gump (written by the same screenwriter as Benjamin Button).

Or the classic American action hero.

How vulnerable is he?

But maybe there’s an appeal to the story of the man who is victim of his circumstances. The sort of person who merely has to watch life unfold around him, and he can come out saying, “The things I’ve seen. Oh, the life I’ve led.” Tom Cruise in Steven Speilberg’s War of the Worlds - all he had to do was run from the machines, and honestly what a great movie that made. Maybe that’s part of our modern world. Or maybe humans have always felt that way. Modern society can certainly be so alienating that it’s easy to feel like we’re just the victims of our surroundings or technology, and that that alone gives life a meaning worth fighting for – or running from.

Pirsig makes the point that while it’s easy to feel alienated from everything, technology was made to benefit us. There’s nothing inherently wrong with technology, or the system, or it all. It’s our mindset that’s wrong. Science has advanced so quickly that we lack the proper tools for incorporating it into our mindset. When your computer freezes your first thoughts are “it’s acting up again, what in god’s name is it up to?” You just want to take a bat to it! But the computer is just a tool, one that was meant to work with us. What the situation needs is someone to take responsibility for it. Because surely it’s not the computer’s fault. And I don’t think you have to know much about computers to realize this. But it’s not necessarily intuitive. And it doesn’t mean that you’ll solve the problem. But on the other hand the “condemnation of technology”, Pirsig wrote, “is ingratitude, that's what it is.”

I’d like to take more responsibility and perhaps allow myself to be more vulnerable. I’m not sure if that’s a tangible goal, or what it’d necessarily look like. But that’s my New Year’s resolution.



Media (in order of appearance):

Photo: (1) Natalie Portman II, 10/23/2007, Mira(on the wall); (2) Portrait of Julia Roberts; (3) zooey deschanel of she & him, 04/23/2008, by Dese'Rae L. Stage; (4) vlcsnap-959983, 02/22/2007, dooby brain;(5) Portrait of Jennifer Gehrt from the 2007 documentary Confessions of a Superhero; (6) zooey deschanel of she and him, 04/23/2008, by Dese'Rae L. Stage; (7) Photo of Kathryn Aselton, from the 2005 film The Puffy Chair; (8) Promo from the 2008 film The Curious Case of Benjamin Button; (9) Photo from 1994 film Forrest Gump; (10) Photo from the 2008 film of Rambo; (11) Photo from the 2005 film World of the Wars; (12)Happy Christmas Shopping, 12/16/2006, by Sherlock77; (13) Jason Campbell of the Washington Redskins.

Video: Music video of the song "Lovers in Japan (acoustic version)" by Coldplay from the 2008 album Viva La Vida.

Upcoming ideas:
  • Seeing things in perspective in the stock market
  • (another) example of why the economy's not a zero-sum game
  • One solution for some times when you may get stuck in thought
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Sunday, December 28, 2008

What are you fighting for?

So many people these days have a chip on their shoulder. It’s not always a bad thing – there’s nothing inherently wrong with believing in something and wanting to improve the world. But I can’t help but think they’re missing the bigger picture. The other day, for instance, my neighbor got pissed that I was parking on her public dead-end road. There weren't any houses around, although a bit further down the road branches off into 3 or 4 individual cul-de-sacs. And this was a safety issue because the shoulder across my house, where I usually park, was too prone to side-swiping. Nonetheless, she called me an asshole and drove off before I could process.

It’s not that I was offended, but it piqued by imagination: Does this lady worry about other people’s parking spots all the time? What are you fighting for?, I wanted to ask her, in the double-sense of what’s the object of your fighting and why are you even doing in it. Surely if I’d moved my car, her largest problems in life would remain unresolved. She’d just have some other chip on her shoulder.

But lots of people have chips on their shoulders, and sometimes I almost feel like other people expect the same of me. There are, I suppose, lots of things to be mad about, lots of causes worth fighting for. But there are infinitely more causes not worth fighting for. All too often, the fervor in which people fight for a cause is disproportional to its actual importance. Even people parking by others’ houses is quite a contention area in America, as you can see in this google search.

I savor these times when people can afford to worry about such inconsequential issues. But there is something incredibly ugly about these minor squabbles. And I see it in various people, in the obstacles they unnecessarily make for themselves and others. Up-close they're ugly, but from a distance they’re pretty funny. I’ve begun a small collection:

  • Topping the list is the Topfree Equal Rights Association, their stated mission is to “help women who encounter difficulty going without tops in public places in Canada and the USA.” Laws which require women to wear tops, they claim, are confining. It’s an equal rights issue, they say. Men can go around without shirts, so why can’t women? For them it’s also about comfort, convenience, well-being, and “ownership and control of [women’s] breasts”. (Now, as a guy I kind of support this, but not for stated reasons.) Their argument is completely logical (although there are some holes, such as the fact that, evolutionarily, breasts are a sexual organ), but in light of the billion other issues that people are fighting for, who cares?
  • Lack of bias in language. For the past decade, the American Psychological Association has taken this to new heights by divorcing pathological language from any negative traits. For example, when discussing schizophrenia, you have to write, people with schizophrenia rather than schizophrenics, so as to avoid defining people by a pathological condition. This might be reasonable - ignoring the fact that, left untreated, people’s lives are often defined by such conditions – but then there are other guidelines that further separate pathology from negative consequences. For instance, you’re not supposed to write people suffering from multiple sclerosis, but rather people who have multiple sclerosis, even though everyone who has multiple sclerosis is also suffering from it. More examples can be found here. Taken to the extreme these guidelines devoid words of their meaning because pathological conditions are by definition negative. Currently however they merely make for ugly sentences in the name of political correctness.
  • Handicap parking. A website community, Handicapped Fraud, has been established to report incidents of illegally parking in handicapped spaces. They’ll also get on your case if you have handicap that isn't visually verifiable. Regardless of the website, handicap parking laws are already pretty absurd; depending on the size of any lot, they require anywhere from 2% to - in the hypothetical of a lot with 2-spots - 1/2 of the spots to be handicapped. It's a business expense issue, not an equal opportunity one. It hurts smaller businesses more; while people with handicaps have already, arguably, benefited disproportionally more from the automobile. In addition to high associated fines, wrote the website creator, “offenders seem to slip in and out of their illegal handicapped parking spaces, with no questions asked. Breaking the law every day with no repercussions.” There are a lot of really angry people at that website.
  • All federally funded research has to ask 2 questions about race/ethnicity: Are you Hispanic/latino? And then, identify your race. This is because many Hispanic/latinos have multiple ethnicities. At the same time, so do many people of non-hispanic descent. While this measure was intended to streamline data collection, it falls short for the same reason most silly government guidelines fall short – because the government is no expert in the area. The guideline was first promoted through the Office of Management and Budget (?) in 1997, tested by the census bureau in 2000, and then required in any study funded through the NIH. Surely should the scientific consensus on ethnicity change – and after all, America is a changing landscape – the government won’t be quick to adjust.
  • School Bus traffic stop laws. You might have heard about these because the punishments are so severe. In many areas you can get up to $1000 and a month of jail time for passing by a stopped school bus that’s either loading or unloaded kids. In essence the school bus functions as a moving stop sign, which pops out whenever the bus is stopped, however these rules still apply if the flashing stop sign doesn’t work. And it doesn’t matter if it’s a bus for kindergarteners or high schoolers. Childhood safety is surely important, but I’ve yet to see any studies on the safety of a moving stop-sign that applies to passing cars in both directions.
Those are just humorous outliers - examples of people fighting, and fighting really hard, for things that don't really matter. But they make me wonder how many other beliefs – held by me or by others – are as vain. Battles against things like drugs, gay marriage, or corporate America all strike a similar cord with me: What are they fighting against?

Sayre’s Law summarizes related phenomena as follows: “In any dispute the intensity of feeling is inversely proportional to the value of the stakes at issue.” I like that law. It throws the fighters directly on their heads, and I don’t think it undermines my perspective but maybe it does. A corollary to the law states, “That is why academic politics are so bitter.”

Usually in our modern society, very little is at stake. This is in part due to our affluence. A successful economy functions to keep our individual stakes small, it hedges risk. Banks minimize the risks involved in loaning money just as insurance companies minimize the risks involved in getting sick. Our largest corporations are partially owned by millions of stakeholders; if they make an irrational move and the shareholders disapprove, they stand to lose a lot of money. Speculators from Wall Street protect farmers from the risk of volatile price swings. Clearly we’ll never be immune from risk – business cycles still exist – but you can’t deny progress. We’ve been able to relocate risks further upstream, before they occur. Things like liquid assets and health insurance provide buffers against risk. Only in their relative absence we’re left, to varying degrees, to face real risks like famines and epidemics.

But all the more reason, I think, to make sure that our battles are worth fighting. It’s all the easier in our society to find new battle fronts – be it in the mind or in the body politic - but it’s become even harder to ensure that they’re worthy battle fronts. Robert Pirsig proposed that the answer to this dilemma is to use those extra resources to bolster the quality, rather than the quantity, of how one spends one's time. Else we’ll go about chasing phantom concerns such as the location of your neighbor's parked car or women’s right to go topless.


Media (in order of appearance)

Photos: (1) Dead End, 04/22/2008, by Loric Wilson; (2) Photos of topfree people, 07/25/2007; (3) Handicap Parking Spaces, 11/23/2007, Road Side Pictures; (4) Stopping for Students to Board a School Bus at 7:02 AM, 09/22/2005, Old Shoe Woman; (5) Half Quality, 02/02/2008, by Beige Alert.

Video: (1) Music video, by Radiohead of the song "No Surprises" from the 1997 album OK Computer; (2) Music video, by Coldplay of the song "Lovers in Japan" from the 2008 album Viva la Vida.
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Saturday, December 20, 2008

Bad Policy Kills

It’s estimated that Soviet Russia’s government killed at least 20 million of its own citizens. Higher estimates are triple that around 60 million, lower estimates are around 7 million. 6 million Jews are thought to have died in the holocaust, and yet holocaust victims are given infinitely more memorials and museums than Soviet Russia’s. Part of this is in response to the sheer idea of the planned genocide of a whole race – no doubt one of the ugliest marks on Western civilization. Post World War II saw dramatic improvements but only in some areas: US and England experienced one of their largest growth eras. And yet in the decade after the war, Russia saw around a quarter to a third of those mass Russian deaths.

We tuck away in history the bits and pieces that we want to ignore while other bits and pieces continue to have meaning today. Modern-day Nazi’s are despised as murderous racists while communists are simply considered harmless liberal extremes. But “it works in theory” I hear from some of my friends. Yet so does Nazism, which is as steeped in its own ideas as any other ideology. Any theory works in theory; if it didn't it would cease to be a theory and then it would be something else. To advocate communism without addressing areas in which its lead to widespread starvation and death - Russia being just one example - is like advocating Nazism without addressing the holocaust.

The extremes of where an idea have gone wrong are often most telling, but you have to look within extremes as well: Extremist ideas, many have argued, aren't always categorically different from their watered down counterparts. Consider
  • Communism in the extreme has led to mass starvation, but in the less extreme it's bad health care.
  • Nazism in the extreme was the holocaust, but in the less extreme it was Kristallnacht.
  • Discrimination in the extreme led to lynchings, while in the less extreme it led to segregation.
  • Religious fanaticism in the extreme is seen as terrorism, while in the less extreme it's evangelical Christianity.
Moderate ideas from one culture sound radical to another. While the outcomes of such extremist movements are alarming, we are doing ourselves a disservice by separating ourselves from them, rather than trying to discern historically where they came from. The holocaust was terrible, but Nazi's are people too. What part of human nature - the very same human nature that yes we all share - had gone wrong? Looking at the roots of many extremist movements in the world, we can see many of our own commonly held moderate ideas, and their drawn out implications.

Not to sound polarizing, it’s just surprising how we cling so readily to some atrocities while completely disregarding others. Europe circa WWII is a very concrete example, as both Nazi and Soviet atrocities occurred in the same era and in the same part of the world. And this is by no means a mere abstract question, we’re dealing with two independent events responsible each for over 6 million deaths. Yet how often do you hear, "Remember the Soviet Union and its millions of victims"? My suspicion is that we’re less likely to recall the deaths in Soviet Russia because communism, moreso than Nazism, is somewhat accepted in America, particularly among liberals.

People cling to their opinions as their personal identity. As Tocqueville pointed out, this is a natural byproduct of democracy and freedom of speech. Ideas suddenly separate people, and they have concrete manifestations. Opinionated as I may seem, I really try to hold them at an arm’s length from my mind.

Sometimes I’ll go to social events with “intellectual conversations” where people will say things like “I believe that all people should earn equal incomes” or “I think education is important”, note with the emphasis more on the first person than on the opinion itself. It’s indeed correct that the first person, I, deserves emphasis, it is more important than the opinion itself. But unfortunately the manifest content of the discussion is inevitably on the issue being discussed not the person talking. And in this context, something like “I think education is important” is one of the the weakest arguments. What people fail to realize – I think sometimes to a fault – is that opinions are easy. They’re cheap. And granted this is just my opinion as well, but they’re often fairly meaningless.

Opinions again can be very personal while the real world is anything but. To get the one confused for the other is a very confusing state indeed. Should I ever come across such concrete evidence as to truly undermine my own opinions about the world, then I hope that I have the strength and peace of mind to change how I view the world.

Some people say that the best politics is always personal. But I just don’t buy it. Because the personal is referring to you - how you feel - and the politics is reflected in reality. It's like saying that physics should always be personal - a colossal confusion between the subjective and objective. And no it's not that politics deals with things that are more personal than physics, as I'm sure some physicists would tell you that physics is more personal. It's that reality abides by laws - such as economics laws - much sooner than it abides by our personal preferences. Contrary to the notion of personal politics, passion and fury when it's coming from a politician is ultimately no more persuasive than when it's coming from a crazy scientist. Distinguishment for the most passionate and fiery politician might very well go to Hitler with his unmatched ability to rile crowds and to gather a whole nation behind him. Personal politics isn’t necessarily opposite of good politics, but they are often placed at odds. The disconnect between personal politics and good politics is like that between the short-term solution and the long-term solution; between the irrational and the rational; between a rash emotional decision and a carefully thought out one. Which isn’t to say that good politics can’t be personal – ultimately all these distinctions are artificial – but it is to say that that which is personal isn’t categorically better. Often it’s worse.

When reality doesn’t match people’s opinions, they often think that it’s the world that has to change. Anything but.


Media (in order of appearance)

Photo: (1) CCCP, 04/07/2008, by MrOmega; (2) At the Temple, 02/05/2007, by Pete4Ducks; (3) She's made up her mind, 10/12/2008, by bobster1985; (4) Del Martin, 1966, 10/20/2008, also by bobster1985; (5) Hong Kong in Motion, 09/16/2006, by Steve Webel.

Video: (1) Tv Theme World At War, 10/05/2008, tvtestcard's channel from the 1973/1974 documentary series World at War.
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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Piece of Fiction: Day at a Time

Here's another piece of fiction, a vignette. It's loosely based on one of my mornings a month or 2 ago, and then recently committed to paper during - for the better or worse like some other posts - a boring speech at a conference.


10am he stepped out the house door to wind-swept streets. He’d overslept, but the extra hours of sleep they inspired a calm rather than a hurry. He walked two blocks briefcase steady in hand to his parked car. Fallen leaves rustled in a breeze, subtly refreshing, their dull color further blunted by a thin morning fog. The curvy suburban street lay motionless and eerie, cars at rest along tall slanted tree lines. He was acutely aware of his hair, how his bangs they shifted along his forehead and atop his ears, this from the extra sleep.

His navy car was parked alone around a corner. To his surprise a thin and inconsistent layer of mud stuck to the exterior. The dried dirt was new he hadn’t seen it before. Perhaps it was the wind overnight? Delaying briefly his commute the man walked around the car. Dirt was on all sides. He looked up focused on his surroundings, wondering if he had missed something in his extra hours of sleep that seemed to produce an aesthetic high, but it wasn’t clear if it leaned towards intoxication or sobriety. What had I missed?, he thought as he opened his car door, scratching some dry mud. Still he hadn’t seen a soul on the street, nor a moving car nor any signs of life. What’s happened?

He drove the same route he did every morning, around curves tucked under trees, over short hills studded with old houses, around bends with limited view – a path he knew as well as the lines on his palm, a drive he could navigate in his sleep which seemed as inevitable as life itself. Still, the bigger roads were just as empty as the smaller ones and this he pondered with the small piece of mind he afforded it, but he couldn’t help but notice the fleeting feeling that time its very essence seemed to stand still.

1025am he turned into his work’s parking garage and funneled around the poorly lit concrete labyrinth until he found an empty spot for his newly grunged up car. Still yet again not a soul nor even a moving car. He turned off the ignition. Flipped off the headlights. Straining in his seat to pocket his keys, he noticed the red backlights finally of a passing car behind him. He looked at himself in the rearview mirror, and raising a hand I combed my fingers through my hair looking forward animatedly to another day.

-KJ Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

"Financial psychopaths wreak havoc."

I try to keep an open mind specifically in spite of my opinions. Capitalism works, but scandals like the Madoff one do test my so called "faith". Forbes went so far as to call Madoff a financial psychopath in response to his peculiarly candid admission of guilt. What if, I think, one quarter of all CEO’s turn out to be engaged in scandal? Then again, politicians aren't perfect either, and giving them more money only shifts and centralizes responsibility. But what if the average human, given high enough earnings, can’t help but let money get to his mind? This happened to me once at a casino. Allow, reader, for a personal anecdote followed by a return to larger issues at hand.

A friend and I once visited a casino pledging to each other that we would only bring $100, spend it on Blackjack using basic strategy, and double down after each loss. We’d spent a few weeks memorizing basic strategy, which is a set of established pre-determined decisions that minimize the house’s advantage to just over one percent. And then doubling-down on each loss means that you double your ante after each hand that you lose. So if you lose on a one-dollar hand, you bet two dollars; if you lose again, then four; eight, etc. Beginning with a minimum bet of $5, it only takes six consecutive losses before you find yourself betting $160. Then again, when or if you finally win, you regain your losses plus a hefty percent. Nonetheless, things add up quickly when you double-down. Although your odds are almost fifty-fifty with basic strategy, you can easily lose more than six times in a row if you play long enough. But that’s why went in with a pact. This way we wouldn’t chicken out. Worse case scenario, we leave after 30 minutes and cut our losses.

Funny thing, we started winning. At first it just felt like dumb-luck. Then it continued. The minimum bet was $5, but after breaking a few short strings of losses, your average winnings per hand becomes much more than $5 – assuming, of course, that you still have the money to double down with. Independently we each approached scary bets - $80, $160 - that threatened to be our last. But we reminded ourselves of our agreement, fortune smiled upon us, and we’d find ourselves with $320 dollars instead of zero. The pit-bosses were eying us with suspicion, and when we each had around $500 we had to take a break. We returned and the winnings kept adding up, until I had around $1000 and my friend had much more.

Eventually reality set in as forcefully as it had stepped out. As we started losing, we got nervous, we each veered away from the strategy, got burned by it, started again, and got burned some more. Degrading smiles replaced the pit-bosses’ suspicion. I left with $200, my friend left with none. When I tell the story friends often ask why I didn't just leave with $1000. I tell them that's precisely missing the point, because if I was thinking rationally, I wouldn't have been in there in the first place.

This 6-hour roller-coaster of an experience changed how I viewed the world. Sometime in the middle, I distinctly recall reaching a point where nothing made sense anymore. Here was this thing money - its intrinsic value I never thought of much - that you work so hard for, and all the sudden, it’s falling out of the sky. I was shaking, palms sweaty, simply trying to keep my growing number of chips in neat piles. You lose a nerve-racking $160 bet and think that was stupid, but then you’d gain twice that on the next one. In a very fundamental way, the walls of reality began to melt, as if I was on hallucinogenics.

Does a similar thing happen to CEO’s? The worry is that you begin making an incredible amount of money, then only attribute your gains to things you do, when it really might just be market-conditions or lady-luck dealing you a good hand. Of course, success isn't all due to luck, but it still plays a big factor. Contrary to our thoughts at the time, my friend and I hadn't found the secret to earning tons of money, we'd merely been dealt a few good hands. Nonetheless, you can find yourself feeling indestructible, beyond rationality and rules, when that's clearly not the case. This is essentially what happened to The Smartest Guys in the Room who raised and crashed Enron. It wouldn't be far off to call them megalomaniac gamblers. They openly embraced risk as a business strategy.

At the same time, it’s easy to overlook how the alternative – socialism, communism – contains at least the same risk of public scandal, if not more. Political scandals are arguably more frequent than financial ones. By keeping politics separate from too much capital, at least to the degree possible, we can isolate such incidents.

Financial scandals still contain a distinctly different feel than political ones. A political scandal may kill an individual’s career, but little fundamentally changes except for, perhaps, a few more people now see politics as dirty. Financial scandals, on the other hand, are weightier. They affect more people’s daily lives, as economics is fundamentally more powerful than politics. They also turn into liberal cannon-fodder for an end to free-market capitalism. But once again, I'm not sure how giving more money to politicians is any better.

It’s an irony of our government that we try to succeed in unnecessary undertakings while failing in very basic areas. When approved drugs turn out to be dangerous, the FDA (who already have an impossibly difficult job) gets more money; but when Wall Street steals money, the SEC receives little public scrutiny, and, at the most, legislates a few new rules. The Forbes article on Madoff does a good job in placing some blame on the SEC, who rightly received similar criticism after the Enron scandal. All too often, however, the SEC's response is new legislation and rules, not better policing or detective-work. New rules that only pave the way for people to look for new ways to break them. People go astray all the time. We need to catch them.

The experience at the casino taught me about the misery of the gambler, a play on a theme of the sort of people who drive down seemingly indestructible companies like Enron. Similar I'd imagine to breaking the law, when you first get away with gambling you feel lucky; when you do it again, you might feel empowered; and when you keep doing it, and keep raising the stakes, you feel indestructible...until, of course, your inevitable downfall. Of course there's a rational part of you that knows this is wrong, just as Madoff knew unquestionably that he was wrongfully breaking the law. When you disregard rationality, life’s aspirations are suddenly right next to its underbelly. It draws a thin line between heaven and hell, placing you short-term in the former, long-term in the latter. Left in its natural state and allowed to fend only for itself, gambling’s predominant outcome is complete utter failure. All the more reason to decentralize capital.

Media (in order of appearance):

Photo: (1) Bernard_L_Madoff, 12/15/2008, marclsudo; (2) compulsive, 04/01/2005, by fictures; (3) someone has to win., 09/23/2007, by austrini; (4) Morning gamblers at Whiskey Pete's, 04/01/2007, by CFBSr; (5) BALLY'S WALKWAY, 08/23/2005, by snowriderguy; (6) Extra, 05/25/2006, by Alex Steffler; (7) Dice, 09/28/2005, by RobW.
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Friday, December 12, 2008

Lucid Quality

I had my first lucid dream the other night, or at least, the first that I remembered anyway. It was rather banal: I dreamed that I’d gotten up and eaten breakfast, realized that I was asleep, and then returned to my dream where I was attending a musical at the Smithsonian or something. When you describe a dream to others, it never sounds as profound as it was in the moment. It’s all about how it registers to the dreamer. At least, the dream seemed to mean something to me…at the time. Sometimes a good deep sleep feels so damn good that I wonder whether sleep is the purpose of life.

It’s become a hippie cliché to go around saying things like, “How do you know that reality isn’t just a dream…man?” This line of thought was started by Descartes (“it’s possible…that all those images, and in general all that relates to the nature of body, are merely dreams or chimeras.”), who went on to create objective realities as widely applicable, exacting, and sobering as the Cartesian coordinate system. Suffice it to say, I tend to think of myself as more in touch with reality than with pseudo-intellectual dead-end ideas. But just the notion of a lucid dream – where you realize in your sleep that you're dreaming, but you keep dreaming – it does make you think, doesn’t it?

This quote has been on my mind for a few months now, it’s from an interview with the Flaming Lips:
We like to sleep. Who doesn’t? I hate it when we run into these people who are like “I hate TV, and I hate sleeping, and I hate these things” because they want to show you how serious and how hard they work all the time. But I don’t trust them. I don’t. People who don’t like to sleep - I don’t trust that they value anything. (i-tunes Original)

To some degree I’m sure we’ve all taken up that mentality at least at one point in our lives: If I could just cut back on my sleep I could accomplish so much more in life. I remember thinking that way at some times in college.

Nowadays it strikes me as ass-backwards. Maybe you have to go through a prolonged period of receiving good sleep to realize that. Or maybe you have to go through a period of getting terrible sleep. But the notion that spending time to sleep is somehow holding you back – even if you’re a busybody – seems paradigmatic of so many logical fallacies in life. On the one hand, you can see exactly why some people would think that way, and on the other hand, it's easy to tell why it's so incorrect. This is why I've recently starting thinking that deep sleep is an end in life, rather than a means toward an end.

Treating sleep as your enemy gets at a very basic error in human life: Confusing quantity for quality. It’s tough because quantity and quality often overlap, each affecting the other. But too often the focus is on quantity, if only because it’s easier for the mind to grasp.

Consider two completely different areas where quantity is severely mistaken for quality:

Obesity and dieting. How often have you heard that if you consume more calories than you burn, you’ll gain weight? This maybe true in the most technical sense, but in everyday life, the body lives on more than just calories alone. The logical implication from this overemphasis on calories is that you could go on a sugar-only diet, and if you ate nothing else, and limited your intake of sugar, you’d lose weight. But it’s just not that simple. The body demands a variety of nutrients. And under various idiosyncratic conditions, the body requires more or less amounts of food. One of these conditions, interestingly enough, is sleep: It’s thought that insufficient sleep increases appetite, likely blunting satiety. Not to mention other things that affect calories required, such as menstrual periods, stress, age, muscles, the common cold, and the weather. Just focusing on calories in and calories out is a gross oversimplification, a paradigm that loses more than it contributes.

Government-created jobs and inflation. Anyone reading this blog with any regularity knew this was coming, but it’s the exact same thing: Creating new jobs to stimulate the economy, without thought of the necessity for these jobs, is once again a focus on quantity over quality. Captain Capitalism's blog has a great post about how a job is valuable to begin with because of the necessity that exists in getting it done. The Captain goes further to point out that artificially creating jobs is just like inflation. In the real world, jobs and money are valuable because of their quality, not their quantity. Diminishing quantities of jobs are usually due to their diminishing qualities (e.g., demand), not the other way around.

These are just 2 areas, but they highlight the importance of well thought-out long-term solutions over quick-fixes. Indeed, in the short-term, you can lose weight pretty well by eating less calories, and you can improve the economy by creating jobs and money out of thin air. But these fail in the long-term: When you eat less, your metabolism decreases so that your body holds onto its fat. And when an economy has an unnecessary amount of jobs and paper money, more of it becomes useless. As these examples demonstrate, there are real world implications of mistaking quantity for quality, and often the end-result is the exact opposite of that desired. Indeed, these are the sort of short-term solutions that people come up with when they’re short on sleep.

It's never just about the bottom line. Never. We're born and we die. Just looking at the bottom line, net result: zero. It's always a question of what occurs in between the input and the output. A human body takes in calories and it expends them, just as a corporation takes in money and it spends money. Somewhere in the middle is a creation of quality.


Media (in order of appearance)

Photo: (1) krakow: dream of mirrors, 01/28/2008, by smiff; (2) Dream on, dream on., 07/27/2007, by Porcelaingirl; (3) Organic tea nutrition fact sheet, 12/29/2005, by Bruno Girin; (4) Steel Worker Houston Texas 1, 04/03/2006, by billajacobus1; (5) le morning dream, 11/19/2008, by boris.

Video: (1) Music video from xxJustChloex, of the song
Vein of Stars, by The Flaming Lips, from the album At War with the Mystics, released in 2006. Sphere: Related Content

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Education won't set you free

Academia is at an awkward intersection between public and private. It’s partly a product of our wealth and compulsory education. No matter how much education is supplied by the government, there will be private demand for a little more so that some people can purchase and earn an edge over others. At the same time, public education now sets its sights beyond high school. State universities and student loans introduce a public aspect to college education, while graduate student loans reach even further into graduate education. People are spending more and more time in education. In the meanwhile, demand for such highly educated people - particularly in academia - is artificially by bolstered by federal research programs. Intelligence, knowledge, education - these are all virtues. But they're not the equivalent of a graduate or even a college degree. The victim in all this is society’s greatest resource – knowledge.

The Supply of Education

I firmly believe that knowledge will set you free. So do people who believe in public education. Its proponents claim that education is a universal human right. That it fights poverty, informs and empowers, serves as a cornerstone of democracy, and protects against stupidity. But can you have too much?

The government’s role in higher education has recently been attacked from a slew of angles. In a December ‘08 article entitled Are Government Investments in Higher Education Worthwhile?, George Leef (of the Pope Center for Higher Education Policy) argued that "Having a college degree is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for success in life." Nature magazine’s late October ’08 issue had a piece, Economics Needs a Scientific Revolution, fleshing out the disservices academia (post 1970) has done to economics. Research grants - the lifeblood for most academic research and higher education - were recently criticized in a Science magazine editorial for causing widespread inefficiency in research. The current post was inspired by an enlightening essay at Blagnet synthesizing the previous two items.

Our current education policy is fueled by misconceptions. Check out this trendy flyer from the Center on Education Policy as a good example. It’s a colorful 16-page document intended to drill the motto higher education = higher earnings into high schoolers’ brains. The flyer has lots of statistical means and full-page attention-grabbing barcharts. Lost in the presentation is the fact that “higher education = higher earnings” is not necessarily a causal relationship. In all likelihood, the relation is at least partly because people with more money can generally afford more education. It's also partly due to people's need to give themselves a competitive advantage over their peers. Meaning that if everyone went to college, then a college education would no longer be as advantageous with regard to income.

Raising collegiate education rates in society is like an arms race: You go to a private college; the Jonses attend a state university. You one-up them with a master’s; the Jonses get a graduate education loan from the fed. Like the cold war, the victim isn’t one side or the other, it’s the sheer waste: The years of missed employment, valuable (even as an educational experience) for you, the Jonses, and the whole economy; there's also all the money potentially wasted on education, regardless of whether it was from private or public funds. Education offers diminishing returns as people age, meaning that it's more valuable for you the younger you are. It's a valuable tool overall, but is it so great as to spend a quarter of your life in its pursuit? What about half? Three-quarters? When is too much too much? Higher education will increase students' future income only as long as it's mostly private. Otherwise, arguing that we need more public education because it increases peoples' income is like a dog chasing its tail.

This issue is getting more important with each passing year. As the baby-boomers filter out, we’re going to see the effects of younger over-educated generations (such as my own) on the workforce.

Of course, most arguments for public education aren't economic: Another side of the issue is that education makes society at large smarter. Even if a degree doesn’t increase your paycheck by too much, it has more generalized positive effects. That we’re even debating about whether we have too much education - what a luxury. This, mind you, is where things get interesting.

I couldn’t agree more about the widespread import of intelligence. But all the more reason to ensure that our policies aren’t wasteful. And all the more that we have to lose if in fact our policies are wasteful. It’s not self-evident that the solution lies in public schools, state universities, and college loans. It’s quite possible that the problem lies in public schools, state universities, and college loans.

The Demand of Education

Discussion of the supply of education - be it for reasons economic or social - inevitably brings up the demand for education.

The pursuit of basic knowledge is one of mankind’s greatest virtues. But occupation of basic research - which often serves as many fields' ideal end-point following graduate education - is frivolous and wasteful. It’s become fragmented to the point of blindness, but in such a way that the solution is often further fragmentation. Like the government, it’s based more on finding problems than solutions. It’s slow and inefficient.

Basic research is confined to the ethics of publish or perish. Perishing might sound formidable, but the other option isn't that great either. Wrote one academic journal editor on peer review:
There seems to be no study too fragmented, no hypothesis too trivial, no literature too biased or too egotistical, no design too warped, no methodology too bungled, no presentation of results too inaccurate, too obscure, and too contradictory, no analysis too self-serving, no argument too circular, no conclusions too trifling or too unjustified, and no grammar and syntax too offensive for a paper to end up in print.

Furthermore, most articles submitted for peer review usually take months before they’re published. (It’s not uncommon to see that an article was originally submitted a year or two before the publication date.) Note that by the publication phase, we’re talking about completed research, which has already had to crawl its way through an internal review board, earn elaborate types of funding, and let's not forget actually carry out the study – each phase can take years in and of itself. A publication delay of a couple months might not sound too bad, but compare that to a private newspaper. A couple months and the story is old news, it's not relevant any more. Compare it to business news, an area that thrives on up-to-date info, just as academia, theoretically, is supposed to thrive on up-to-date info. A month-long news delay in the business world, everything could be different.

One's graduate education doesn't necessarily have to lead to a job in academia, but you can't discuss the one without the other. And like anything in over-supply, graduate education and academia - supposedly these great ends - are inefficient.

Inefficient academic research is not due to any one factor, it’s due to the supply of academic research outstripping its demand. Supply that has been artificially increased through government-funded education, and demand that's been financially backed by the government-funded research. I’m often impressed by comparing public research to that of the private industry (even though some view corporate research as science's enemy). Private businesses would never take on such an inefficient process. Yet private business still depends on its own research, perhaps even moreso than the pursuit of basic knowledge depends on its own research.

Compare 20th century advances in technology to those in medicine. The former has been relegated to the private industry, while almost all medical research is tied to the government – be it through public funding, or through drugs regulated and partly sold through government programs. Sure tech and medicine are completely different fields. Medicine deals more directly with people, which makes medical research infinitely messier. At the same time, research in the technological industry is nothing short of spectacular. The technology industry has taken R&D by the bull-horns and wrestled it to the ground with as much willpower as possible. Consider how the cutthroat competition between Intel and Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) in the 90’s, which was costly and privately-funded, is by itself largely responsible for the modern PC. A month-long publication delay of writing up and internally sharing research results would have driven Intel or AMD out of business. An analogous case in medicine might be found in pharmaceutical research, but that area is still slowed by heavy governmental regulation. The sort of governmental regulation that would have prevented battles like the one bewteen Intel and AMD. Pure academic research, however, severely lacks a sense of urgency - not because it’s not cut-throat enough, but because, yet again, its supply is higher than its demand.

The pursuit of basic knowledge is one of mankind’s greatest virtues, but basic knowledge has been tremendously advanced by applied research. Where would modern basic knowledge be without the personal computer?

Looking Forward

The personal computer is the story of the end of the 20th century, just as the car is the story of the beginning of the 20th century. Both of these technologies were blessed by the fact that only a few people were able to predict their huge impact - they were able to develop through private industry rather than public research. We have to ask ourselves what future fields we’re squandering with government intervention. Surely our country’s educational system plays a role here. And surely erring on too much public education isn't necessarily advantageous.

You can determine the health of a country’s economy by looking the at people who are best off: How did they get rich? How do they spend their time? Are they working and innovating? Or is their wealth tied to the government? Many American CEO's fit the stereotype of always working and thinking about ideas. From Henry Ford to even Ken Lay of crooked Enron, they reach a point where ideas are as big a motivator as money (or else they'd stop working entirely). But how do things fare for future generations? More and more, the situation in America favors keeping its brightest (and perhaps wealthiest) in school indefinitely, and then confining many of them to academic research. How many potential Bill Gates or Steve Jobs have been lured into academic research positions? What are we doing with our knowledge? Where is it going?

Media (in order of appearance)

Photo: (1) Obama teaching law; (2) Bookish, by toshi123, 10/20/2008; (3) Pullout of Soviet troops from Afghanistan, 1988, by Mikhail Evstafiev; (4) The Impossible Dream, 03/17/2007, by sagesnow; (5) The fountain of knowledge..., 11/04/2006, by carf; (6) fox business news no fox fox, 10/23/2007, by d.i.o.d.e.; symbols of the enlightenment, 07/04/2008, by troutmask; (7) three-headed MacBook 2008, 10/23/2008, blakespot; Morning commute into downtown, 11/07/2008, by biocommute.

Video: (1) Music video of Judy Collins singing "Who Knows Where the Time Goes?", video uploaded 03/01/2008 by Thespadecaller, song can be found on Colors of the Day: The Best of Judy Collins, which was released in 1972.
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Thursday, December 4, 2008

Judge not, that ye be judged

“Who are these losers?” I asked myself 15 minutes into the 2007 documentary, Confessions of a Superhero. The film tracks the lives of a rare breed of pan handlers crossed with superheroes located on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Dressed as superheroes of their choosing, they coax passersby into getting a picture with them in return for a tip. The film focuses on four of these faux-heroes' backgrounds. Each has the cliché background of moving to Hollywood with hopes to hit it big, only to get stuck there with an undesirable job. The catch is that the occupation is in one sense so close to the dream – getting into costume and playing a role – but in another sense, so far – begging pedestrians for spare change.

Confessions of a Superhero is a great film in how it digs into these characters rather than skimming the surface with high profile interviews and related late-night talk show items. In their own individual ways, each character has a yearning that we can all relate to. They each have failings that we can all relate to as well. They’ve dreamed so large, yet hit reality so hard. Perhaps, at the least, they’re not losers after all.

Judge not, that ye be judged” – This is the only thing I really got out of the Bible, but it stuck hard. It’s easy to judge and to cast off. Yet it fosters an attitude of arrogance. A state where no one feels that they should listen to the other. It’s impossible to truly withhold judgment, but acting heavily upon such judgments, I find, confines my mind into a corner. Why should I bother with other people if so many of them are below me? We're influenced heavily by those around us. We're built that way. To shut your mind off from those around you is to block yourself from a human essential. To shut your mind off mentally from those around you, you might as well shut your body off physically from those around you.

One of many products after millions of years of evolution, most people are not so different from one another, and they may not be so different from one another as to warrant judgment, at least, judgment in any grand sense. Looking from the outside-in, we have similar characteristics, builds, purposes, mechanisms. Surely one individual isn’t universally better than another. Any such judgments made are just on a trivial subjective scale, be it in terms of preferences, personality, money, education, colored heavily by culture. People from cultures other than your own often look alike because you don't have the cultural tools to pick them apart. So are people across all cultures: similar.

This is what democracy is built upon. “That all men are created equal.”

People are an economy’s best asset – particularly in their most free and unbridled form possible. It’s telling that Einstein escaped persecution as a Jew in Nazi Germany (his work ridiculed as Jewish Physics) in order to eventually help America defeat the Axis. Perhaps if Nazi Germany had been more welcoming to Jews, he could have helped them defeat America. But then again, had Nazi Germany been more welcoming to Jews, it wouldn’t have been Nazi Germany, and we’d be talking about something else not World War II.


Media (in order of appearance)

Photo: (1) Confessions of a Superhero movie poster; (2) Einstein portrait.

Video: (1) Trailer for the 2007 documentary Confessions of a Superhero, 10/10/2007, from Arts Alliance America channel.
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Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Good, the Bad, and the Positive

Enron collapsed when it did for a reason. The business had the unfortunate luck of rising to power during the bull market of the 90’s. The company subsequently hid its ever mounting debt behind a rising stock price. So long as it looked legit on the outside, and investors continued to invest, it could smooth over massive losses – a strategy that was uniquely tailored to a bull market, but which threatened to crumble should the market falter. The company finally fell when after the internet bubble popped. Underlying its falling stock price was the fact that investors’ heads were no longer in the clouds. The public finally saw the company for what it really was - a sham. During bear markets, investors are more scrupulous and exacting - their minds are screwed on tighter.

Bad times are categorically different from good times. Negative news is more informative than positive news. Positive psychology doesn’t make sense. And this all needs to be taken with stride, as it’s easy to criticize without offering any solutions. In sum, we have more to learn from when things go wrong than when things go right.

This principle can teach us a lot. It’s obvious in some regards, but not in others. The best place to start is positive psychology, a field hell-bent on violating this principle.

Positive psychology is not so much a field as it's a movement. It’s the sort of movement that, in a funny way, could only happen in modern America. In the words of some of the movement's biggest supporters:

The science of psychology has made great strides in understanding what goes wrong in individuals, families, groups, and institutions, but these advances have come at the cost of understanding what is right with people. (Gable & Haidt, 2005)

…at the subjective level [positive psychology] is about valued subjective experiences: well-being, contentment, and satisfaction (in the past); hope and optimism (for the future); and flow and happiness (in the present). At the individual level, it is about positive individual traits: the capacity for love and vocation, courage, interpersonal skill, aesthetic sensibility, perseverance, forgiveness, originality, future mindedness, spirituality, high talent, and wisdom. At the group level, it is about the civic virtues and the institutions that move individuals toward better citizenship: responsibility, nurturance, altruism, civility, moderation, tolerance and work ethic. (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000)

That should give you a sense of positive psychology, it’s a feel-good science. Hopefully just reading that made you feel a little good.

The impetus for positive psychology is that we live in such a negative world: We’re surrounded by negative news. All too often people focus on others’ bad qualities, particularly psychologists. So they’re hoping to turn that trend around, and show the world – through scientific study – about the sunny side of humanity.

I can sympathize. We define ourselves by our positive qualities, not our negative ones. We accomplish more when we focus on the positive skills of ourselves and those around us. There’s something to be said for making a point of holding back unnecessary negativity and truly enjoying your time on this earth.

But inevitably positive psychology begs the question why are we so focused on the negative?. There’s actually good reason.

It teaches us more. It’s more urgent. At the very least, you have to admit that in life, the negative and positive are categorically different: The negative is not just the polar opposite of the positive, as it is in mathematics.

Examples abound, perhaps the most telling is that of Phineas Gage, the railroad worker who suffered a spike blown through his brain (in the frontal lobes) in 1848. His survival – how he was functional, but newly irritable, forgetful, and obstinate for the rest of his life – is often credited with kick-starting modern brain science, a field that has benefited more from such brain lesions than from any other modern experimental manipulation.

We’re quicker to notice when things are wrong than when they’re right. This lesson was painfully drilled into me during summers when I waited tables. When you’re waiting tables, many things can go wrong, and patrons are quick to verbally (or nonverbally) point them out to you. Indeed, a good job waiting an individual table is not so much defined by an outright acknowledgment of such but rather by the lack of any complaint.

But there’s something else that annoys me about positive psychology. It’s not merely a flawed scientific approach, it’s the assumption that the positive side of life is worth spending so much time on, that it needs to be understood - indeed, that it can be understood - and that such a science can truly improve people's lives.

In this world, there are infinite different ways to succeed. But there’s a limited number of ways to fail. People don’t just randomly fail to thrive; they generally fail in some sort of systematic way. They fall into categorizes of sickness or mental disorders – categories that, granted, are man-made, but which still, I’d argue, genuinely represent the state of nature. Just like waiting tables, the best way to improve others’ lives is to prevent things from going wrong. Under those circumstances, mankind can thrive – we have for over 100,000 years.

The positive psychologist might retort that focusing on positive areas such as happiness is the best buffer against negative consequences like say depression or anxiety. Yet this is still interpreting the import of happiness from the perspective of the negative. Nonetheless, buffer has become a buzzword in positive psychology, with studies concluding that various positive traits “buffer” people from negative consequences. The word protect is used in a similar manner.

Take a study on emotional intelligence - an interesting construct in itself, which, unnecessarily, is for some reason tied up in positive psychology. The 2004 study found that male participants' emotional intelligence predicted negative behaviors such as drug use and social deviance. Concluded the authors, “Our findings suggest that emotional intelligence may protect males from engaging in potentially harmful behaviors.” The causal implication in the wording is high emotional intelligence prevents these behaviors, not low emotional intelligence leads to those behaviors. But once again, the positive side of something – in this case, high emotional intelligence – is often qualitatively different from its negative side – which here is low emotional intelligence. For instance, say you run a longitudinal study showing that depression at time one predicted suicide at time two. Would you suggest that a lack of depression buffered participants from suicide? Does a lack of depression prevent suicide? No, it would be more reasonable to interpret your results along the lines of depression causing suicide. Once again, there are many ways to be not depressed, and there are many ways to not commit suicide, but there are only a few ways to be depressed and to kill yourself. Another parallel can be found in cognitive psychology under Spearman’s law of diminishing returns, it holds that the construct of intelligence is empirically more sound for people who are less intelligent than for people who are more intelligent. In other words, there are a few tangible and quantifiable ways to be dumb, but there are many more ways to be smart.

The increased role of negative things in life is manifested in all sorts of ways, and in a sense it’s in who we are. We have more to lose from negative things than we have to gain from positive things. No one would ever publish a medical case study of an exceptionally healthy person. Sad music is almost always the more beautiful. Dante’s Inferno is incredibly stirring and moving. His Paradisio is a bore-fest.

This disconnect between the positive and negative in life is manifest on the national level as well. Socialists often take the role of the positive psychologist, with the goal of determining what’s best for people. It seems simple enough, but it fails by oversimplifying man's happiness. Just as case studies of things gone wrong are integral in medicine, examples of disastrous policy decisions can teach us much about economics. Sowell writes about Lenin’s early transformations in his approach towards implementing communism. At first, Lenin oversimplified human prosperity, not unlike positive psychologists. The result was an overwhelming lack of prosperity, which even Lenin was able to attribute towards his initial shortcomings.

On the eve of the Bolshevik revolution, V. I. Lenin declared that “accounting and control” were the key factors in running an enterprise and that capitalism had already “reduced” the administration of business to “extraordinarily simple operations” that “any literate person can perform” – that is, “supervision and recording, knowledge of the four rules of arithmetic, and issuing appropriate receipts.” Such “exceedingly simple operations of registrations, filing, and checking” could, according to Lenin, “easily be performed” by people receiving ordinary workmen wages.

After just a few years in power, however, Lenin confronted a very different – and very bitter – reality. He himself wrote of a “fuel crisis” which “threatens to disrupt all Soviet work”, of economic “ruin, starvation, and devastation” in the country, and even admitted that peasant uprisings had become “a common occurrence” under Communist rule. In short, the economic functions which had seemed so easy and simple before having to perform them now loomed menacingly difficult.

Belatedly, Lenin saw a need for people “who are versed in the art of administration”…Lenin warned his comrades: “Opinions on corporate management are all too frequently imbued with a spirit of sheer ignorance, an anti-expert bias.” (Sowell, Basic Economics, 2006, p. 164-166).

The fatal flaw of socialism is equivalent to that of positive psychology: That we can correct the wrong by simply actively pursuing the good. The flaw is in the assumption that man’s pursuits are as tangible, predictable, and manipulable as his shortcomings.


Media (in order of appearance)

Photo: (1) P1030672.JPG, 06/30/2008, by Stanandlou; (2) 200811 bull market, 10/10/2008, by superciliousness; (3) Frankfurt Stock Exchange-Bear, 04/30/2007, by Leonieke; (4) Girasoles para los amigos/Sunflowers for the Friends, 12/31/2007, by Claudio.Ar-Hermes; (5) soledad, 12/02/2005, by Robotson; (6) Mike Butcher being judgmental, 10/21/2008, by Adam Tinworth; (7) Representation of Phineas Gages' leison, 2004, by Antonio Damasio; (8) sadness under a big sky, 05/04/2006, by goatopolis; Grosse tete-Big Head, 12/21/2005, by Gentil Garçon [sombres présages].

Video: (1) Music video of the song
Fake Plastic Trees, by Radiohead, released on the album The Bends, which was put out in 04/05/1995. Sphere: Related Content
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