* via BuzzFeed!
Peter A. Ubel is professor of medicine and psychology at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, where he explores the quirks in human nature that influence our health, happiness and society. He is author of the book Free Market Madness (Harvard Business School Press, 2009), which investigates the irrational tics that lead people to overbid on eBay, eat too much ice cream and take out mortgages they cannot afford. In an interview with Jonah Lehrer, Ubel explains how innate optimism, greed and ignorance can depress financial and physical well-being—and how individuals can commit to change.
Scientific American Mind: Your new book, Free Market Madness, argues that conventional economics, which assumes that humans are rational agents acting in their own self-interest, is deeply naive and scientifically unrealistic. Instead you describe a brain brimming with biases and flaws. Do you think these flaws are responsible for the latest economic turmoil? If so, how?
Peter Ubel: Irrationality is responsible for the economic mess we find ourselves in
right now—irrationality plus greed, of course, and a substantial dose of ignorance. Let us start with ignorance. I am sad to say that many Americans have a difficult time with even simple math—around a third of American adults cannot calculate 10 percent of 1,000. People who struggle with concepts such as percents have an extremely difficult time with more complicated ideas, such as compounding of savings and, very relevant to our current crisis, adjustable-rate mortgages.
To make matters worse, most of us are hardwired for optimism. Ask us how we rate as drivers, and the vast majority of us are convinced we are above average—even those of us who have gotten into multiple car accidents. As a result of our unrealistic optimism, we are convinced that our incomes will rise fast enough to keep up with our outsized mortgage, or that our adjustable rate will not rise, or that our house’s value will indefinitely outpace inflation. We are social beings, too, and frequently judge our own decisions by seeing what other people are doing. If my neighbor added on a new kitchen with a home equity loan, I might assume that is a good idea for me, even if a more rational weighing of my finances would suggest otherwise. Even savvy financiers can get caught up in irrational impulses. If a competitor’s firm makes huge profits on risky loans, it is easy for me to push aside my fears about such risks: if he took those risks and was rewarded, maybe I overestimated the risks!
Mind: What can eBay teach us about human irrationality?
Ubel: eBay auctions help to reveal the rational and irrational forces driving consumer behavior. People are often quite rational, after all. Raise the price of a T-shirt, and generally, fewer people will buy it. Reduce the quality of a good, and you better reduce its price, too! But behavioral economists have analyzed eBay data to help identify some ways that consumers act irrationally. [For more on eBay and irrationality, see “Is Greed Good?” by Christoph Uhlhaas; Scientific American Mind, August/September 2007.] Offer a really low price for opening bids, a price everyone knows will not be the final selling price, and you nonetheless lure some consumers into making an initial bid. That increases the number of people bidding on the product, which makes it look more attractive, thereby generating even more bids. And then bidders, who knew the price would rise from their initial bids, get emotionally attached to the product and keep raising their offers. Now you know why it makes sense to tell people that bids for that Picasso hanging in your living room can start at $5!
Mind: You also argue that by taking our own irrationality into account, we can improve our health and well-being. Can you provide an example of a way to achieve such improvement?
Thanks to Justine Ganz for the email forward containing this gem!
I LOVE HOW SOMBERLY THIS IS WRITTEN:
NASA’s online contest to name a new room at the International Space Station went awry. The comedian Stephen Colbert won. The name Colbert beat out NASA’s four suggested options in the space agency’s effort to have the public help name the addition. NASA’s mistake was allowing write-ins. Mr. Colbert urged viewers of his Comedy Central show, “The Colbert Report,” to write in his name. And they complied, with 230,539 votes. That beat Serenity, one of the NASA choices, by more than 40,000 votes. Nearly 1.2 million votes were cast by the time the contest ended Friday. NASA reserves the right to choose an appropriate name, and an agency spokesman said NASA would decide in April.
* via NY Times.
I KIND OF LOVE THIS KID.
* Thanks to Mary Patterson for knowing I would appreciate this!
* via Natalie's blog!
Subway heroes, as they are inevitably tagged even before the grease from the tracks is rubbed off, come along every now and then — indeed, as the story of Chad Lindsey suggests, perhaps more often than we know.Continue reading...
Minutes after rescuing a man who had fallen onto the subway tracks at the Penn Station stop on Monday, Mr. Lindsey managed to melt back into the anonymity of the city, escaping the notice of the police, paramedics and subway workers.
“I’m of many minds of being in the spotlight,” he said after a call from this reporter, whose short account of the accident on The New York Times’s City Room blog on Monday prompted one of Mr. Lindsey’s friends to disclose his identity on Tuesday. “But what the hey,” he said.
Mr. Lindsey, 33, is from Harbor Springs, Mich. He moved to New York City three years ago and settled in Woodside, Queens.
He can take it from there:
“I was waiting for the C,” he said from his office on West 30th Street, where he works as a proofreader. “I’m an actor — shocker.”
He said almost everyone seems to be an aspiring actor nowadays, but in this case, it is a critical point to the story: Mr. Lindsey currently appears in an Off Broadway show called “Kasper Hauser,” in a role that requires him to repeatedly lift a character who cannot walk.
On Monday, as he waited for the train, about 2:30 p.m., he was thinking ahead to the reading he was heading to. “I’m kind of zoned out, and I saw this guy come too quickly to the edge,” he said. “He stopped and kind of reeled around. I felt bad, because I couldn’t get close enough to grab his coat. He fell, and immediately hit his head on the rail and passed out.”
Mr. Lindsey said he sensed a train was approaching, because the platform was crowded. “I dropped my bag and jumped down there. I tried to wake him up,” he said. “He probably had a massive concussion at that point. I jumped down there and he just wouldn’t wake up, and he was bleeding all over the place.”
He looked back up at the people on the platform. “I yelled, ‘Contact the station agent and call the police!’ which I think is hilarious because I don’t think I ever said ‘station agent’ before in my life. What am I, on ‘24’?”
Reporters are not the only ones with a particularly keen interest in what Michelle Obama wears. Her husband, Mrs. Obama says, notices everything. In fact, she has learned not to wear a certain gray metallic belt when the president is around.Continue reading...
“Barack calls it my ‘Star Trek’ belt,” the first lady said in an interview this week. “He doesn’t understand fashion.”
The interview, which started out on the subject of the new White House vegetable garden, ended up ranging over a variety of household topics, which Mrs. Obama addressed with substantial fun-poking at her husband, her mother and herself.
On the president and her wardrobe:
“He’s always asking: ‘Is that new? I haven’t seen that before.’ It’s like, Why don’t you mind your own business? Solve world hunger. Get out of my closet.”
She teasingly imitated him: “You didn’t need any more shoes. The shoes you had on yesterday were fine. Why can’t you just wear that for the rest of the presidency?”
There is flattery, there is shameless flattery, and there are conversations with Arianna Huffington. She'll talk to old men about their libido, beautiful women about their intelligence, the unemployed about their talent and the wealthy about their artistic depth. In her hands, a compliment is the social equivalent of a Tomahawk missile, launched in stealth at a heavily researched target and perilously difficult to defend against.Continue reading...
As recently as five years ago, this ability — plus a native braininess and a healthy dose of opportunism — had earned her a regular seat at soirées in the Washington–New York City–Los Angeles triad, as well as a modest media profile. She was once referred to as "the most upwardly mobile Greek since Icarus."
Today Icarus is in her shade. In February the Huffington Post, the website she started in 2005 with Ken Lerer and viral-marketing guru Jonah Peretti, became the 15th most popular news site, just below the Washington Post's and above the BBC's. It garnered 8.9 million unique users that month, according to Nielsen — more than double what it attracted a year ago. It gets a million-plus comments from readers a month. A business newswire recently valued the site at more than $90 million. Only one independently held online-content company (Nick Denton's Gawker properties) is worth more.
HuffPo, as it's known, has reached this level of prominence with 55 paid staffers, including Huffington. Twenty-eight of them are editorial, compared with more than 1,000 at the New York Times. Open the site on any given day and you will be greeted with copy from the Associated Press, contributions from unpaid writers, stories whose legwork was done by other news outlets and a smattering of entries from the site's five reporters. In terms of traditional newspaper content, that's about the level of a solid small-town daily.
But some people believe this model may fundamentally change the news business. When the Seattle Post-Intelligencer became the first large daily newspaper to stop printing and move entirely to the Web, on March 18, the new site was structured uncannily like HuffPo, its original content reduced and jostling for space with guest blogs, wire stories and links to other news sites.
The success of her site has allowed Huffington, 58, to reinvent herself again, from Bush-bashing pundit to media mogul and digital pioneer. But as the enterprise grows, even a pedigreed networker like Huffington may find that it's hard to keep friends in the media when she's killing their business.
All the residents of Huffington's large romantic stone house in Brentwood, Calif., are female: Huffington, her sister Agapi and her two daughters Christina, 19, and Isabella, 17. The walls of the living room are adorned with paintings by Françoise Gilot, one of Picasso's lovers, and Kimberly Brooks, the wife of actor Albert Brooks. Isabella's room is covered with photographs by Annie Leibovitz. Most members of the house staff are women — Huffington even uses her housekeeper as chauffeur when necessary. "My mom's not good at driving," Isabella says. The matriarch is a deft hostess; there's always something to eat and, in the way of female gathering places, lots of conversation.
The Huffington Post was hatched at a party here not long after the 2004 presidential election. Former AOL executive Lerer, who professes to hate parties and to barely have known Huffington at the time, had already launched an anti-NRA site. He saw the need for a counterpoint to Matt Drudge's popular right-leaning website. "For about half an hour it was called the Huffington-Lerer Report," says Lerer. "But I'm shy." He and Huffington raised a million dollars, and Lerer brought in Peretti, his buddy from the anti-NRA website. The Huffington Post was to have three basic functions: blog, news aggregator with an attitude and place for premoderated comments.
Up until a few years ago, Nakameguro was best known for the narrow, cherry tree-lined Meguro River, which bisects the neighborhood and draws tourists from all corners of Japan, particularly during the spring festival season. Then came the cafes, restaurants, bars and boutiques, most of which are low-key and laid-back, especially when compared with the hustle and bustle in nearby Shibuya.
Today, Nakameguro has gained a reputation as one of Tokyo’s hippest neighborhoods, a harmonious melding of old and new, urban and rustic.
“It’s a hub of celebrities, musicians, designers and comedians,” said Fraser Cooke, who moved to Nakameguro from London three years ago to work as Nike’s global-brand energy leader. “It’s tipped as a major hot spot in the design community, more foreigners live here than ever before, and there’s new restaurants popping up everywhere.”
One of those restaurants, Kijima (1-23-3 Aobadai Towa Building, 3F; 81-3-5720-7366), opened in May; specialties include a delicious shabu shabu salad (1,200 yen, $12.03 at 99.78 yen to the dollar) and kakuni (simmered pork belly; 1,000 yen), as well as nikujaga (beef, potato and onion stew; 1,200 yen), which is finished at your table by a kimono-clad waitress. Kijima’s sliding doors, black walls and floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the cherry trees create a vibe that is both elegant and earthy.
Across the river, Higashiya (1-13-12 Aobadai; 81-3-5428-1717; www.higashiya.com) approaches sweets with the same pageantry and detail that Tiffany & Company brings to jewelry. Their exquisite mochi, balls of gelatinous rice filled with edamame paste (300 yen), are eaten not with chopsticks, but a smooth wooden knife that’s as sculptural as it is functional. Handmade ceramics and minimalist décor create an experience that induces calm and serenity, and hints at the ancient tradition of the Japanese tea ceremony.
The LED-streaming signage that ribbons the walls of Cow Books (1-14-11 Aobadai; 81-3-5459-1747; www.cowbooks.jp) is thoroughly modern (during a recent visit, it repeatedly displayed the phrase “Book Bless You”), but the rare, out-of-print and first editions that fill the shelves point more to the 1950s and ’60s. Specializing in the Beats, psychedelia, and writers like Richard Brautigan, the satirist author of “Trout Fishing in America,” the shop is a veritable shrine to Japan’s peculiar, nuanced fascination with Americana.
The owners of Madeleine (1-25-5, Aobadai; 81-090-3500-0560) make a mean latte (390 yen). But perhaps more intriguingly, they do so in the back seat of a cream-colored vintage Citroën — located a literal stone’s throw from Cow Books, just across the Meguro — and serve it out of the rear hatch, which has been converted into a sort of makeshift cafe counter. It’s this kind of resourcefulness that gives the neighborhood its creative, youthful energy.
“Nakameguro is like its own small village,” says Hideaki Ishii, the dreadlocked proprietor of Research (1-14-11, Cooperative House Aobadai 105; 81-3-5459-4699; www.sett.co.jp), a clothing boutique that changes not only its collection each season, but its name too.
“Everything we need is right here — supermarket, bars, restaurants, record store, Thursday night D.J.’s,” said Mr. Ishii. “It’s gotten so that the locals don’t even leave anymore.”
Yaaaayyy!!! Peggy's band is getting love from critics and fans and deservedly so!! We are so happy for you Peggy!!
And the band appears comfortable with its pop instincts: a pair of new songs, played midset, were even frothier and looser than its album. They helped the band build momentum, which was high toward the end of its 45-minute set, when the group deployed its two best songs. “Everything With You,” a wistful love poem, was big and bright, and “A Teenager in Love” sounded like an optimistic Cure record, with shuffling beat underneath swooning keys.
But those songs only shine on the surface, their good cheer masking a cynical core lurking in the lyrics. Warm on the outside, the Pains of Being Pure at Heart seethe with refreshingly mordant wit. Some of their most clever lyrics appear to limn transgressive shades of intimacy. There’s incest, maybe, on a jangly song with an exuberant, unprintable title, and teacher-student love on “The Tenure Itch”: “His indiscretions you don’t mind/He says your thoughts need form/But your form’s not hard to find.”
But it’s not that Mr. Berman isn’t capable of seeing the bright side, or celebrating how it arrives in brief flashes. “I can’t see into the sunset,” he sang on “Come Saturday,” which was the loudest the band got all night. “All I know is that you’re perfect/Right now.”
I received a review copy of this book from National Geographic and it was a delight to look through (do you still say "read" when it's a photo book?). You get candid and intimate glimpses into mother and child moments and their different exhibitions across cultures. The most memorable, awe-inspiring and even alarming photo for me was of a pregnant woman in Mexico, laying on a straw mat while someone (doctor or husband or friend?) listens to the baby's heartbeat through a cone device pressed onto her belly. That photo and all the photos in the book drive home the point that we are all united through this incredible, inexplicable experience called motherhood regardless of our disparate situations and surroundings. From Botswana to Iceland to Malaysia to Southern Indiana (perhaps the most foreign to me!), there's something to behold for all mothers, children and soon-to-be-mothers in this special little book.
Pavel remembers the violent night sweats two days before the murder. He went to see a family doctor, who said they would go away. But after viewing a Bruce Lee martial arts film, he said, he felt uncontrollable sexual desires. He invited a 12-year-old neighbor home. Then he stabbed the boy repeatedly.Continue reading...
His psychiatrist says Pavel derived his sexual pleasure from the violence.
More than 20 years have passed. Pavel, then 18, spent seven years in prison and five years in a psychiatric institution. During his last year in prison, he asked to be surgically castrated. Having his testicles removed, he said, was like draining the gasoline from a car hard-wired to crash. A large, dough-faced man, he is sterile and has forsaken marriage, romantic relationships and sex, he said. His life revolves around a Catholic charity, where he is a gardener.
“I can finally live knowing that I am no harm to anybody,” he said during an interview at a McDonald’s here, as children played loudly nearby. “I am living a productive life. I want to tell people that there is help.”
He refused to give his last name for fear of being hounded.
Whether castration can help rehabilitate violent sex offenders has come under new scrutiny after the Council of Europe’s anti-torture committee last month called surgical castration “invasive, irreversible and mutilating” and demanded that the Czech Republic stop offering the procedure to violent sex offenders. Other critics said that castration threatened to lead society down a dangerous road toward eugenics.
* The Dwight t-shirt and the heart glasses are both recent gifts from the best hubby in the world! That is Jonah.
On early mornings, the path ringing the Great Lawn in Central Park is densely populated with unleashed dogs and their owners, all busily interacting. Trying to maintain a semblance of discipline amid the canine and human socializing can strain communication between master and dog.
On a recent outing, I heard someone calling, “Chester! Chester! Chester!” first sweetly, then with increasing intensity, and finally, angrily.
When no Chester appeared, the frustrated caller tried a new tactic: “O.K., Chester, I’m leaving. Goodbye. Have a nice life.”
They are often tucked away in the rough-and-tumble sections of the city’s south side, hidden beneath dingy hotels and guarded by men in dark coats. Known as “black houses,” they are unofficial jails for the pesky hordes of petitioners who flock to the capital seeking justice.Continue reading...
This month, Wang Shixiang, a 48-year-old businessman from Heilongjong Province, came to Beijing to agitate for the prosecution of corrupt policemen. Instead, he was seized and confined to a dank room underneath the Juyuan Hotel with 40 other abducted petitioners.
During his two days in captivity, Mr. Wang said, he was beaten and deprived of food, and then bundled onto an overnight train. Guards who were paid with government money, he said, made sure he arrived at his front door.
As Beijing hosts 10 days of political pageantry known as the National People’s Congress, tens of thousands of desperate citizens are trying to seek redress by lodging formal complaints at petition offices. A few, when hope is lost, go to extremes, as a couple from the Xinjiang region did in late February: they set their car afire on the city’s best-known shopping street, injuring themselves critically.
In his annual report to the legislature on Thursday, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao said China should use its petition system to head off social unrest in the face of a worsening economy. “We should improve the mechanism to resolve social conflicts, and guide the public to express their requests and interests through legal channels,” he said.
According to the state media, 10 million petitions have been filed in the last five years on complaints as diverse as illegal land seizures and unpaid wages. The numbers would be far higher but for the black houses, also called black jails, the newest weapon local officials use to prevent these aggrieved citizens from embarrassing them in front of central government superiors. Officially, these jails do not exist.
Are forward-facing strollers having a negative effect on babies’ language development? British teachers have for some time been observing a decline in the linguistic abilities of many children, and some have wondered whether this might be one contributing factor.
There may be something in this idea. Babies who face ahead cannot see their parents or caregivers and thus have difficulty interacting with them. On loud city streets, babies may have trouble even hearing parents talking to them.
Neuroscience has shown that brains develop faster between birth and age 3 than during any other period of life, and that social interaction fosters such neurological development. So, if babies spend a significant amount of time during their early years in forward-facing strollers, might it impede their language learning?
Britain’s National Literacy Trust commissioned my research team to look into this question. No previous research had been carried out, and strollers, or “buggies” in British parlance, haven’t always faced forward. In the 19th century, they were designed so that infants faced the person pushing them. It wasn’t until the late 1960s that collapsible strollers emerged, with engineering constraints causing them to face forward.
We observed 2,700 families with young children walking along main streets in cities and villages throughout Britain. We found that forward-facing strollers were by far the most common, but that babies in them were the least likely to be interacting socially. When traveling with their babies in forward-facing strollers, caregivers were observed speaking to infants in only 11 percent of cases, while the figure was 25 percent for those using toward-facing strollers, and even higher for those carrying children or walking with them.
Could it be that parents who buy toward-facing strollers simply talk more? Probably not. In a follow-up exploratory study, we gave 20 mothers and infants aged 9 to 24 months a chance to try out both stroller types, and recorded their conversations. Mothers talked to their children twice as much during the 15-minute toward-facing journey, and they also laughed more. The babies laughed more, too.
Of course, infants do not spend all their time in strollers, but anecdotal evidence suggests that babies can easily spend a couple of hours a day in them. And research tells us that children’s vocabulary development is governed almost entirely by the daily conversations parents have with them. When a stroller pusher can’t easily see the things that attract a baby’s attention, valuable opportunities for interaction can be missed.
Ours was a preliminary study, intended to raise questions rather than to provide answers. It is now clear that future research on the effects of stroller design would be worthwhile.
Meanwhile, the findings already encourage us to think again about how babies experience stroller rides — and other forms of transportation like car seats, shopping carts and slings. Parents needn’t feel worried, but instead curious about the elements of the environment that attract their children’s interest. The core message of our findings is simple: Talk to your baby whenever you get the chance — and whichever direction your stroller faces.
For their part, stroller manufacturers should keep in mind how much their products are likely to shape children’s development. Let’s give an award to the first one who can produce an easily collapsible stroller that faces both ways — and is affordable for all parents.
* via NY Times Op-Ed.
Sparky was the cutest sleep-barker and sleep-runner of all time. Fortunately no run-ins with a wall...that we know of.
* Thanks to my brother for this!
The young woman was floating face down in the water, about a mile southwest of the southern tip of Manhattan. Wearing only red running shorts and a black sports bra, she was barely visible to the naked eye of the captain of the Staten Island Ferry: When he caught sight of her bobbing head, it was like glimpsing the tip of a ballpoint pen across a busy city street. Less than four minutes later, a skiff piloted by two of the ferry’s deckhands pulled up alongside the woman. One man took hold of her ankles while the other grabbed her shoulders. As she was lifted from the water, she gasped. Skip to next paragraph The City Go to Section Front » WABCContinue reading...
A flier posted during Hannah Emily Upp's absence.
“I went from going for a run to being in the ambulance,” the woman said several months later in describing her ordeal. “It was like 10 minutes had passed. But it was almost three weeks.”
On Aug. 28, a Thursday, a 23-year-old schoolteacher from Hamilton Heights named Hannah Emily Upp went for a jog along Riverside Drive. That jog is the last thing that Ms. Upp says she remembers before the deckhands rescued her from the waters of New York Harbor on the morning of Tuesday, Sept. 16.
Rumors and speculation abounded about what befell Ms. Upp. She disappeared the day before the start of a new school year at Thurgood Marshall Academy, a Harlem school, where she taught Spanish. She left behind her wallet, her cellphone, her ID and a host of troubling questions.
It was as if the city had simply opened wide and swallowed her whole — until she was seen on a security camera at the Midtown Apple store checking her e-mail. Then she vanished again. And then reappeared, not only at the Apple store but also at a Starbucks and several New York Sports Clubs, where news reports said she went to shower.
Was she suffering from bipolar disorder? Running away from an overly demanding job? Escaping from a city that can overwhelm even the most resilient?
Other questions lingered. Did she forage for food? Where did she sleep? Most baffling of all, how did she survive for so long without money or any identification in one of the world’s busiest and most complex cities?