Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Why Smart People Are Stupid

This is the title of Jonah Lehrer’s penultimate blog post at The New Yorker. In the bitterest of ironies, it turned out this title refered to him. If anyone doesn’t know, Lehrer was on the path to a career in neuroscience when a few years ago he switched tracks to become the most lucid neuroscience popularizer – a best-selling author and a speaker commanding high fees at corporate events. Then, at some point, it all went fell apart. 

Olympic spirit

Predictably, the Olympics opening ceremony unleashed a whirlwind of tweets, with twitterers competing to key in in real time the greatest punch line - ever. Then, multiple web sites rushed to compile lists of the funniest tweets. Then, other web sites compiled lists of the best lists of funniest tweets. Then – OK, I made that last one up. In any case, I combed through a couple of the lists, and I did find a clear winner. It came from an economist, Matthew Yglesias, who must have an uncharacteristic ironic streak since he writes for Slate. This is what he said: “Watching these open ceremonies, fairly confident that China will bury the west.”

Monday, July 30, 2012

Why Are Some Olympic Women’s Teams Flying Coach While the Men Fly Business?

The main example used in this article in Time Magazine refers to the different flying experiences of Japan’s women’s soccer team (reigning world champions) and their under-23 male counterparts (nobodies, at least before they stunned Spain in London). So, why the difference?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The end of morality, among other things

In November, Californian voters will cast ballots not only to elect the next president of the United States and members of Congress. They will also vote on a proposition to eliminate the death penalty, and replace it with life in prison without parole. Was this ballot initiative launched out of any humane concerns, including the possibility that impressionable juries are once in a while condemning innocents to death? Maybe, but the argument around the issue turns mostly on money.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Downside of Liberty

Here are the first three paragraphs from a NYT op-ed piece under this title by writer Kurt Andersen: 

“This spring I was on a panel at the Woodstock Writers Festival. An audience member asked a question: Why had the revolution dreamed up in the late 1960s mostly been won on the social and cultural fronts — women’s rights, gay rights, black president, ecology, sex, drugs, rock ’n’ roll — but lost in the economic realm, with old-school free-market ideas gaining traction all the time?

“There was a long pause. People shrugged and sighed. I had an epiphany, which I offered, bumming out everybody in the room.

“What has happened politically, economically, culturally and socially since the sea change of the late ’60s isn’t contradictory or incongruous. It’s all of a piece. For hippies and bohemians as for businesspeople and investors, extreme individualism has been triumphant. Selfishness won.”

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Everybody Knows

Yesterday, another great white went belly up in the muddy waters of London-based haute finance.  As I was watching older footage of him giving testimony and sipping expensive whine, I called a friend so we could rejoice briefly over this rare downfall of a celebrity predator and strike for social sanity. My friend, however, immediately doused my gloating in conceptual cold water. He reminded me of a famous passage from John Stuart Mill’s “On Liberty.” In it, Mill described the development of various mechanisms for keeping down the “innumerable  vultures” who would trample upon and exploit the week in any society – from the unlimited power of the ancient kings to modern “representative government.”  So my friend asked (what sounded like) a rhetorical question: could this age-old struggle have finally ended – with the complete and total victory of the vultures? Who may need from time to time to ritually sacrifice one of their own, but will never ever give up their status of a collective top dog?