Sunday, February 17, 2013

Business as usual

I just stumbled upon the following “inspiring” quote by Thomas J. Peters (whom Google identifies as some sort of business guru): “The magic formula that successful businesses have discovered is to treat customers like guests and employees like people.” The immediate association that went off in my brain was: “Oh, yes – and work does make you free.” 

Like fish in water

A NYT story reports that, according to a new study, " traces of a common psyciatric medication that winds up in rivers and streams may affect fish behavior and feeding patterns." The fish exposed to the anti-anxiety drug apparently "became less social, more active and ate faster." They also became visibly bolder - more willing to take risks and explore open areas. The researchers are concerned a bit about the possible effects of these behavioral changes on the fish's well-being and ecosystems. My first thought, however, wasn't of the fish - it was of the people who take similar medications at much higher therapeutic doses.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

John Lennon is overrated!

DavidBrooks has a column in the NYT highlighting the promise and limitations of what he calls “The Philosophy of Data.” He claims number crunching has helped expose the fallacy of some common intuitive beliefs. After the obligatory references to sports and politics, Brooks gets to deconstruct John Lennon: “We think of John Lennon as the most intellectual of the Beatles, but, in fact, Paul McCartney ’s lyrics had more flexible and diverse structures and George Harrison’s were more cognitively complex.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Politics and Orwell’s language advice

Steven Poole has a recent column in The Guardian offering his contribution to a spate of publications and broadcasts intended to mark 110 years since George Orwell’s birth. While making some nods to his famous critique of the vague wickedness of much political language, Poole also says Orwell’s “more general attacks on what he perceives to be bad style are often outright ridiculous, parading a comically arbitrary concoction of intolerances.” Poole accuses the famed writer of linguistic xenophobia and of inadvertently launching what later became “a philistine and joyless campaign in favor of that shibboleth of dull pedants ‘plain English.’” With the risk of revealing myself as a dull pedant, I am tempted to suggest that Orwell might have had a point.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Freud 2.0

A couple of days ago, the NYT published some advice on “Keeping Blood Pressure in Check.” The article describes three types of hypertension, one of which is “neurogenic” - produced by the sympathetic nervous system. Why would the latter be stuck in overdrive? Dr. Samuel J. Mann, a medical doctor, professor, and author of a book on the subject, Hypertension and You, offers an answer. He says that “neurogenic hypertension results from repressed emotions.” In his own practice, “he has found that many patients with it suffered trauma early in life or abuse.” This revelation reminded me again how wrong I can be when jumping to conclusions before consulting an expert.

Monday, February 4, 2013

The good life at the top

What is the good life? Philosopher have investigated this vexing question for millennia. Now, thanks to the advances of biomedical and social science, the conundrum has been solved. All you need is to become top dog in any area - if not in any social, professional or political area, at least among friends or in a romantic relationships. This is the main finding of a new study completed by a team of psychologists: “Power Helps You Live the Good Life by Bringing You Closer to Your True Self.” They “predicted that because the powerful are able to ‘navigate their lives in congruence with their internal desires and inclinations,’ they feel as if they are acting more authentically - more ‘themselves’ - and thus are more content.” This hypothesis which was borne out by a few clever experiments. So the researchers were able to disprove the romantic (or self-serving) “stereotype that power leads to unhappiness and loneliness.”

Sunday, February 3, 2013

The sweet smell of success

Camille Sweeney and John Gosfield are the authors of a self-help book on the feats of “superachevers.” As part of their promotional campaign (I assume), they offer in the NYT some insights into the “Secret Ingredient of Success.” Faithful to the conventions of the genre, they start with a catchy anecdote. They tell the story of Korean-American chef David Chang who was failing in his efforts to live off a small noodle bar in NYC. Then he had some sort of epiphany, and started to cook up strange fusionish dishes. Those quite unexpectedly attracted crowds of customers, followed by rave reviews and multiple awards - a course of events the newly minted celebrity chef still finds “kind of ridiculous.” Now Mr. Chang owns a mini culinary empire with 8 outposts (as of Jan. 19) spanning the globe. He also has “other thriving enterprises, including bakeries and bars, a PBS TV show, guest spots on HBO’s ‘Treme’ and a foodie magazine, Lucky Peach.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Action woman

Time Magazine carries a fairly flattering profile of Kathryn Bigelow, as if her new movie needs extra promotion. The title, “Art of Darkness,” is perhaps also meant to flatter the smart readers who are expected - wink, wink - to recognize the allusion to the Conrad masterpiece which once inspired another famous war movie (as I did!). The profile says the successful director “is an astonishingly youthful 61 and exudes a warm elegance, equal parts Northern California mellow and and Northeast patrician.” Putting the obligatory rhetorical overkill aside here, this strikes me as a fairly astonishing characterization. Warm? If I were to make the call, I would easily cast her as the Snow Queen in an HBO adaptation of the medieval tale. This hunch is based mostly on the two B&W photos gracing the profile - one on the artfully designed cover, the other - bigger - next to the big title inside. I haven’t seen any of her movies, but the Time article offers plenty of evidence to corroborate the fuzzy impression created by those images.