Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Why paradoxes matter

"things that are normally good end up being bad." "people doing what they ought to do end up making the situation worse."

1- the paradox of thrift: if everyone saves at the same time during recession, they actually save less (because of decrease in consumption and economic growth).

2- the paradox of de-leveraging. when a company is concerned about defaulting on its obligations or concerned about rampant losses, it can use de-leveraging to lower its risk of default and mitigate its losses. but if everyone is shrinking and selling their assets simultaneously, the total value of the assets plunge, so everyone ends up in a worse financial state than they started.

3- the paradox of deflation: an individual company or worker can preserve a business or a job by accepting a lower price; but when everyone does it, we get debt deflation while our debt gets larger (which weighs on the economy). we also get deflationary expectations built into lending and investment decisions, which further depresses the economy. once you're in a deflationary trap, it's very hard to get out of it.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Are we getting dumber?


Something extraordinary: The New York Times' opinion section entertains the question, Are people getting dumber?   Who are these people if not us?

Wait, don't say "I'm not dumb" yet (which is a dumb thing to say). There are two ways of approaching this: dodging the question or biting the bullet.

Bill Maher does the former,

One gets the point, my problem with Maher is that he excludes himself from the pandemic. And it's only Maher defending himself against the army of the dumb. Besides, criticizing dumbness doesn't automatically make one smart. 

Given our recent history, it takes some political skill to be dumb:

Or is politics dumber than we thought?

This is how New York Times confronts the issue: Linda Gottfredson thinks the world is getting more complex, which makes us look dumb by comparison.
Many of us feel stupider by the year, if not the week. Age and ill health take their toll, but Mother Nature isn’t the culprit. It’s those clever people busily complicating our lives, innovation by innovation, upgrade upon upgrade. They don’t lower our native intelligence, but relentlessly burden it.
Contra Gottfredson, young people don't seem to mind the accumulation of innovation. On the contrary, they turn the overload into multitasking.

Ritch Duncan disputes that we are dumber. Instead, it's the Internet that makes us look that way:  
Because of the Internet, the really dumb things that people do — even people of average intelligence — get amplified almost instantaneously. You can get a perfect score on your SATs and it will barely register in a world of 200 million tweets a day. But give just one stupid answer in a beauty pageant, and you’ll be the laughingstock of the world before you have time to clear your name on the next morning’s “Today” show.
If so, this post --according to Duncan-- is a dumb exercise. 

(Is it dumb to play dumb?)

To top things off, comedian Erin Jackson defends a marketplace for dumbness:
I am a professional stand-up comedian, so dumb people are good for business. Without dumb people doing and saying dumb things, I wouldn’t have anything to blog, or tweet, or riff about on stage. No joke about the CVS cashier who couldn’t figure out how to give me 15 cents in change because “we ain’t got no dimes,” or the acquaintance who can’t double a cookie recipe without using an iPhone app.
I'm not convinced. Thanks to Socrates we know that one is not dumb if one sees it. So, dumbness can exist as denial. The problem is that one is not transparent to oneself. That is to say, being dumb can become an easy pretension (of smartness). Even playing dumb can become, well, a dumb strategy.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The fear of loosing one's fear

From Science Daily:
"If one is afraid of spiders, and by virtue of being afraid of spiders one tends to perceive spiders as bigger than they really are, that may feed the fear, foster that fear, and make it difficult to overcome," said Michael Vasey, professor of psychology at Ohio State University and lead author of the study. (...) "When it comes to phobias, it's all about avoidance as a primary means of keeping oneself safe. As long as you avoid, you can't discover that you're wrong. And you're stuck. So to the extent that perceiving spiders as bigger than they really are fosters fear and avoidance, it then potentially is part of this cycle that feeds the phobia that leads to its persistence.
Which means that by avoiding the object of fear, phobias perpetuate fear. Perversely, one fears loosing one's phobia.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Creepy faith, lunacy, lethal power

By "creepy faith" I mean the exploits of self-pity and self-aggrandizement, which Sheikh Nasser al-Omar from Saudi Arabia displays unabashedly. The shift from ruthful to ruthless to uncontrollable weeping would pass as buffoonery were it not that this man's ego trip is a lethal weapon.

Friday, February 17, 2012

How does one pretend to make a choice one doesn't really make?


This one is fresh from the  NY Times, a candid look at how corporations learn from human behavior:
The reason Target can snoop on our shopping habits is that, over the past two decades, the science of habit formation has become a major field of research in neurology and psychology departments at hundreds of major medical centers and universities, as well as inside extremely well financed corporate labs (...) One study from Duke University estimated that habits, rather than conscious decision-making, shape 45 percent of the choices we make every day, and recent discoveries have begun to change everything from the way we think about dieting to how doctors conceive treatments for anxiety, depression and addictions.
And how corporations get into the habit forming business? It turns, by making you believe you make the choice!
“With the pregnancy products, though, we learned that some women react badly,” the executive said. “Then we started mixing in all these ads for things we knew pregnant women would never buy, so the baby ads looked random. We’d put an ad for a lawn mower next to diapers. We’d put a coupon for wineglasses next to infant clothes. That way, it looked like all the products were chosen by chance. “And we found out that as long as a pregnant woman thinks she hasn’t been spied on, she’ll use the coupons. She just assumes that everyone else on her block got the same mailer for diapers and cribs. As long as we don’t spook her, it works.”
Didn't you know this already?

I see it differently. Though they play the paternalistic game, corporations understand that we live in bad faith, (they mine on it and, by default, get us in the end).

Being a "consumer" means pretending independence.

Let's look again at this cycle of consumer's bad faith: You know you are being spied on, so you choose to play a game of "consumer independence," falling for the pretense that this time it's your choice?? (& not the corporation's?). Bunk.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Designing pork


Mark Bittman's food columns in the NY Times have recently taken an ethical-gastronomic angle. The issue at hand is McDonald's new requirements that its suppliers of pork  provide plans for phasing out gestation crates. Bittman writes:
This is important for the animals and for the entire meat-selling industry. Let’s start with the sows: a gestation crate is an individual metal stall so small that the sow cannot turn around; most sows spend not only their pregnancies in crates, but most of their lives. For humans, this would qualify as “cruel and unusual punishment,” and even if you believe that pigs are somehow “inferior,” it’s hard to rationalize gestation crates once you see what they look like. (For the record, defenders of the system suggest that crates prevent sows from fighting in group pens. There’s no space to argue that here, but it’s nonsense.)
This is when you come in because "designing pork" impacts our food in terms of that seldom explored food topic: animal cruelty.

Is it better to eat an animal that lives a more humane life?*
*When it comes to animal cruelty "humane" is often used as a moral standard. It brings forth this idea of happiness associated with certain rights enjoyed by humans. But how can you "humanize" the very animal you end up killing for food? The moral tension is unavoidable. It's like saying: I'll keep you "happy" until it's time for you to die so,
1- your meat tastes better,
2- I feel less guilty for eating you.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Only in America: 1.8 million dead people still registered to vote!

What happens when the zombie partially eat the living? They cause a chain reaction of zombie-cannibalism. This form of relentless, tenacious & parasitic practice is known as politics. Every vote counts!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

What is a "monster"?


Buzzfeed calls this series "ridiculous monsters." Let's excuse BF's lack of historical acumen at not mentioning provenance. 

My problem is that BF takes for granted that these "monsters" did not exist.


Take a look at this (some amongst these "freaks" belong in a prominent list!) *
Josephine Clofullia (the so-called "bearded lady of Geneva")
It boils down to a distorted interpretation of the past, blindspotting our present. It happens by design, i.e., our current antiseptic idea of "normality."

The Swiss manuscript, on the other hand, presents a rational treatment of the issue,

Switzerland, 1557
The title reads "Chronicle of Omens and Portents from the beginning of the world up to these our present times," (Switzerland, 1557). The Chronicon is dramatic & naive in its quasi-scientific approach. We are looking at early anthropology! The shift in perception of how to understand these human types changes, from 16th century "portents" to 19th century "freaks" (i.e, curiosities in the circuses of Europe and America).

Today's political correctness works in a perverse way: we don't call these people "freaks" anymore. In fact, we don't have a word for them. And yet, we think 16th century illustrators were, as Buzzfeed calls them, "fucked up"?   
*Thanks to J. Tithonus Pednaud for The Human Marvels, a formidable research/site!