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Monthly Archives: July 2009

99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall

E.J. Dionne, Jr. on the problem with “teachable moments”:

Since everybody seems to turn autobiographical during these “teachable moments,” I will exercise my right to do so, too. From the time I was in college in the late 1960s and early ’70s, I have been incensed at the elitism so often shown by privileged liberals toward the white working class. And I felt this as someone on the left.

I wrote a doctoral dissertation inspired by that concern, and the current controversy led me down memory lane, through college newspaper archives, to see if my recollection of my earlier views matched reality. For what it’s worth, here’s what I wrote in 1973, the year I graduated from college:

“What is most disturbing about conservative attacks on the student left is that many of the charges were right on the mark. The student left often did come to be characterized by its own forms of elitism and intellectual arrogance. …

“Even more pernicious and divisive were race issues. It is clear, of course, that black demands for political and economic equality are justified … (but) the way these issues developed … served to estrange the working class white from the movement for equality. White workers rebelled because they felt they were being forced to pay an inequitable share of the costs of equality. … Sadly, whites who protested against being singled out were too often attacked as racists. … In the end, the losers were those who had the greatest stake in social reform — white workers, blacks and the student left.”

I risk the indulgence of quoting my younger self to suggest that we have been watching this same game for too long. It’s a game that always turns out badly for those seeking equality and social reform. At the time he was asked to comment on Gates, Obama was trying to make the case for universal health coverage — for the largest step toward greater social justice since civil rights and Medicare — and it took only the single word “stupidly” to send everyone scurrying back to that “infinite regress of score-settling.”

Sgt. Crowley should not have arrested Gates, as the police implicitly acknowledged by dropping the charges. But Gates knows that this police officer with a good record is not the enemy. Let’s end the score-settling right now.

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Command a Room Like a Man

I can only think of one person who would find this post useful (and in the same time remotely flattering) but I doubt he’s a reader of fireEXIT. Be that as it may the reason this feed caught my attention was that the photo looked so very familiar and yet I had never seen it before.

Credits (and more) here.

command-1

We’ve probably all seen those men who can enter any room and instantly command it. I’m not talking about the loud and boisterous dolt who makes a scene with obnoxious alpha-male jackassery. I’m talking about the man who exudes a silent magnetic charisma that electrifies the entire room just by his presence. People feel better when this type of man is around and they want to be near him.

The benefits of being able to walk into any social situation and completely own it are innumerable. The man who can command a room is more persuasive in his business presentations, easily meets and makes friends, and attracts more women. While many men are born with the ability to charismatically command a room, it can also be learned. Below we’ve provided a few tips to get you started on being El Capitan of any social or professional situation.

Walk in boldly. Many men walk into a room timidly because they don’t want to appear presumptions or self-important. While you shouldn’t barge into people’s home, once you’re invited in, walk in with a bit of pep in your step. You’re supposed to be there, so act like it.

Theodore Roosevelt was a master at walking into a room boldly. In 1881, Roosevelt was elected to the New York Assembly at the age of 23. Accounts from fellow assemblymen on Roosevelt’s first day in office all describe the impressive entrance of the young man. ()

More photos by Nat Farbman here. I found the details in a couple of them particularly spooky.

I wouldn’t trust Google with my personal info

When I read in the pages of this newspaper this month that the Conservative Party was planning to transfer people’s health data to Google, my heart sank. The policy described was so naive I could only hope that it was an unapproved kite-flying exercise by a young researcher in Conservative HQ. If not, what was proposed was both dangerous in its own right, and hazardous to the public acceptability of necessary reforms to the state’s handling of our private information.

There are powerful arguments for people owning their own information and having rights to control it. There are massive weaknesses in the NHS’s bloated central database and there are benefits from using the private sector. But there are also enormous risks, so we are still a long step from being able to give personal data to any company, let alone Google.

Google is the last company I would trust with data belonging to me. In the words of human rights watchdog Privacy International, Google has “a history of ignoring privacy concerns. Every corporate announcement has some new practice involving surveillance”. It gave Google the lowest possible assessment rating: “hostile to privacy”. It was the only company of the 20 assessed to get this rating. It also said Google was leading a “race to the bottom” among internet firms, many of which did little to protect their users.

This highlights how careful we must be in using private companies to handle personal data. Actual and potential misuse of such data will be a recurrent public concern of the next several decades. This is because of the huge commercial value of a near-monopoly internet presence, combined with legally unfettered use of personal data. This is what gives Google a market capitalisation of $130 billion (£79 billion). It represents the value of exploiting its customers’ private data for commercial ends.

There is little the state can do about this. It cannot cut back Google’s monopoly, because it arises properly from the fact that Google provides a service people want. The state should impose some limits on how personal data is managed, anonymised and used, but that is a slow, technically difficult and international process. We should not disapprove of the profitability of Google, but we should recognise that the size of its profits have a dramatic effect on corporate behaviour.

It was the prospect of huge profits that pushed Google into its amoral deal with China and drove its high- handed approach to the intrusion on people’s privacy with Streetview. ()

(via Paul Gilroy)

An Easy Way to Increase Creativity

Creativity is commonly thought of as a personality trait that resides within the individual. We count on creative people to produce the songs, movies, and books we love; to invent the new gadgets that can change our lives; and to discover the new scientific theories and philosophies that can change the way we view the world. Over the past several years, however, social psychologists have discovered that creativity is not only a characteristic of the individual, but may also change depending on the situation and context. The question, of course, is what those situations are: what makes us more creative at times and less creative at others?

One answer is psychological distance. According to the construal level theory (CLT) of psychological distance, anything that we do not experience as occurring now, here, and to ourselves falls into the “psychologically distant” category. It’s also possible to induce a state of “psychological distance” simply by changing the way we think about a particular problem, such as attempting to take another person’s perspective, or by thinking of the question as if it were unreal and unlikely. In this new paper, by Lile Jia and colleagues at Indiana University at Bloomington, scientists have demonstrated that increasing psychological distance so that a problem feels farther away can actually increase creativity.

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