Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Baron von Münchhausen economy

A couple of years ago Emily Yoffe wrote an article on narcissism for Slate. Reading it, one could readily conclude that Alexis de Tocqueville’s and Christopher Lasch’s warnings had finally come to pass. Then Yoffe appeared on the Colbert Report and made the argument that narcissistic behaviors had helped ignite the financial crisis. To which Colbert retorted: “But the economy and the market are really just built up on confidence. Why don’t we just recapture that narcissism that we had a year ago and just pretend that everything is OK? And won’t the market just come right back? Won’t we just rebuild the bubble?”

Friday, December 21, 2012

Asians: Too Smart for Their Own Good?

This is the title of a NYT opinion piece by Carolyn Chen, Director of the Asian American Studies Program at Northwestern. In it, she argues forcefully for lifting the quotas for Asian Americans at top universities, the way those were renoved for superachieving Jewish students back in the 1960s. Of course, the Asian quotas can now only be secret, which makes their fallout all the more devastating: “At highly selective colleges, the quotas are implicit, but very real. So are the psychological consequences. At Northwestern, Asian-American students tell me that they feel ashamed of their identity — that they feel viewed as a faceless bunch of geeks and virtuosos. When they succeed, their peers chalk it up to being Asian. They are too smart and hard-working for their own good.” And Amy Chua’s “tiger mom” bravado comes in for a beating since it “set back Asian kids by attributing their successes to overzealous (and even pathological) parenting rather than individual effort.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Zeitgeist 2012

An article in the NYT recently gave some advice on (ad)dressing a festering social wound: “How to Attack the Gender Gap? Speak Up.” My immediate thought was: how about creating a less competitive and fairer social environment? But this just shows how naïve I can be.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

We have been through this too many times…

These were the words of a visibly shaken Barack Obama yesterday as he fought back tears and parts of his face visibly trembled while he spoke. He was so emotional that CNN’s Wolf Blitzer appeared almost moved in his post-comment comments. Some will no doubt blame the president for failing to show the steely resolve befitting a strong Commander-in-Chief. As Antonio Damasio and others have demonstrated, though, lack of emotional input in judgment and decision making can be an even greater problem than uncontrolled emotionality. Which, by the way, shouldn't inspire much confidence in Angela Merkel's leadership style as described in Der Spiegel ("A Cold Heart for Europe: Merkel's Dispassionate Approach to the Euro Crisis").

Friday, December 14, 2012

You are not a number

The NYT carries two articles on different topics but with similar titles and even more similar messages: “Messi’s Brilliance Transcends His Numbers,” and “Dear Rafiki, You Are Not Your SAT Score.” I suspect Ethan Roeder, the chief quant of the Obama re-election campaign, would want to argue this point a bit. He would acknowledge that data cannot tell us everything about anyone; but would probably add that they, nevertheless, provide valuable information if analyzed properly.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Phony and Phonier

Observers cannot stop scratching their heads and nodding in disbelief at the inept naïveté  with which David Petraeus and his mistress-biographer Paula Broadwell tried to conceal their doomed escapades. Indeed, one would expect slightly greater sophistication from the spymaster of the Free World, and even from a West-Point-educated lieutenant-colonel from the U.S. Army reserve. I suspect, though, that their childish silliness has an easy explanation.