If you read this blog for any time, you’ll eventually come to the conclusion that I’m interested in a few things–writing (of course), fitness, and how people think and react.
In light of the third element, I’ve seen some recent churn on the viral video from Dove wherein a forensic artist is asked to sketch women as they describe themselves, and then do a different one where other people describe them. The result is a more “traditionally beautiful” image when someone other than the subject describes the subject rather than when the subject describes herself.
The churn is a slow-burn that questions why women feel the need to be “traditionally” beautiful in the first place. I think that’s a fair enough question, but misses the point of the exercise.
For the 10 people in the world who haven’t seen it, here’s the video:
The detractors I’ve seen generally argue that women shouldn’t feel the need to meet some standard of beauty at all. Why should they want to look a particular way? Why should they want to be “pretty” as defined by a societal norm? While I agree with that basic sentiment, I don’t find those questions to be particularly interesting or valuable. The answer is fairly obvious, and I don’t think that it’s ever going away. (The other point that’s relevant is that Dove, by running the event, is accentuating the societal norm, which again is fair … but not particularly interesting or surprising to me for the same reasons as above).
But I have to admit that I think the actual point of the video is far more interesting, and, since it has roots in individual perception rather than in societal norm, is far more addressable. I am always interested in how people think versus what is “reality.” I think it’s far more interesting to ask why a person misjudges themselves relative to what others think than ask why the baseline of human nature is what it is. And in this case, the fact that women grade themselves down relative to how other people see them (whether it’s physically, intellectually, or in areas of achievement) is important.
I mean, I think it’s fair to say that given the choice, a majority of men would pretty much all prefer to be 6’4″ and cut like a diamond with a set of washboard abs, too. So it’s not like women hold the market on being interested in looking good as defined by the majority of human existence. At its root, though, this exercise (which could well have lots of scientific issues, of course) still stands as a banner for situations where people (in this case, of course, women) misread what is real about themselves.
For example, some years ago, Lisa and I were talking about performance of kids at school. Lisa felt girls were held back in the classroom. Which is true in many ways … a mixed classroom has been often proven to be male dominated. But I said that, while this should be addressed, classroom behavior may not be the actual measure that matters. I said it was always known that the girls in my high school were the smart ones. That 4.0s and honor society kids were very often girls. I don’t know about your city, but our local paper prints the lists of the top 10 students at each high school each spring, so I told her she should look in the paper every time they are printed, really look, and she would find these lists are heavily dominated by girls–despite the male domination of the classroom environment. Those conversations were at least ten, maybe fifteen years ago. And I’m fairly certain that every list since that time has been at least 60% female–most of them 70%. This past spring one of our three or four schools top 10 list was nine female and one male. I knew I could make this highly unscientific statement because I’ve been actually watching.
I think it’s fascinating that populations of people who are different react and perceive things differently. I think it’s important to understand these differences, and it’s important to ensure these differences are not being used to the detriment of the people involved in them merely for the fact that they exist. But I think it’s also important to understand that these differences are a normal part of human behavior.
In both of these cases, you can ask: Is the problem the norm, or is the problem the perception of self? In both the quest for physical beauty and the quest to feel comfortable in the classroom, a female can be made to feel uncomfortable–and that’s a problem of itself. But in both cases, one can also ask if we’re actually looking at the subject “correctly.” The top females apparently learn quite well in the classroom (at least relative to males in Columbus, anyway), despite any angst they feel. And females are often not as happy with how they look relative to others reality. Or let’s run the counter experiment with males and see what we come up with. As I said, male humans have their own hierarchical needs of self-fulfillment.
I don’t have any grand answers here. I don’t have any chest-beating philosophy of the “right” way to look at things. I agree with the naysayers regarding the video and its reliance upon the societal norm. But I don’t want to discount the fundamental aspect of human nature behind the experiment itself. I mean, just look at the expressions on the women’s faces as they are exposed to the way they see themselves. Those expressions are, to me, the point of the story. We are not going to get rid of perception, of people slanting the meanings of various events and situations. But the expressions on these women’s faces define the gap between their perceptions and the “reality” of the world with regard to this one very individually charged issue.
They are the things that are most interesting to me.
Since I’ve “finished” episode six, I’ve decided to spend the next day or two reading through the raw material that will complete the next section. I’m doing this to plant the whole of the story back into my head so that I know where everything is going when I begin to write it anger.
Of course, having started this, I’ve already hit upon a couple small pieces that I think belong better in the last episode–which means I’m not actually done with episode six.
This is, of course, why I’m working on the entire suite before I decide to release it again. In terms of raw work, it doesn’t matter whether the stuff fits in six or seven episodes, of course. But I’m finding it psychologically difficult to keep going back to something I had earlier felt was done up just fine and dandy.
Still, back I go.
I’ve created two place holders in episode six, and half-filled one. Will finish up once again tomorrow, or perhaps tonight.
So word comes now that All-American boy, Tour de France icon, and cancer survivor is now considering whether to admit to doping. This is, of course, pretty much akin to a husband thinking about possibly admitting to an affair–sometime after the judge signs off on the divorce papers.
So, after years and years of such adamant denial, after hundreds (if not thousands) of statements made in great passion that he did not have intravenous relations with that syringe, it appears that Lance is thinking of changing his position to one of, “well, yes, I did inject, but I did not inhale, and I did not like it.”
It all might make one wonder what happened to change his thinking–did Lance get hit with a pang of regret? Did he decide he wanted to show kids what the right thing to do was?
No. Of course not.
Instead Lance is apparently thinking that if he admits doping he will be able to participate in other events.
At the end of the day, Armstrong’s case is a tough one. It’s a microcosm of the modern sports world and all of its participants. I don’t know where to fall on the spectrum, really. I don’t like the idea of performance enhancing drugs, but I’m competitive enough to understand the idea of what it means to be great, to be driven to be exceptional. And I understand the fact that there are people who would be perfectly willing to give away years of their life at the end in order to be exceptional in the middle.
I get that all.
The problem here, though, is not the act itself–not that he wanted to be exceptional. It’s that he cheated, he broke rules under the table, and it’s the fact of Lance Armstrong’s long, long record of vehement denials that he was not a crook. But the fact is, just as in the case of pretty much every high-profile denial these days, is that yes, it appears he really was a crook.
I always enjoy things that examine how people think about things, especially when it’s accompanied by a bit of modern brain science. I grabbed this article on optimisim bias off Kris Rusch’s Twitter stream. In particular, I wonder how far this goes toward covering why people do things that are so obviously bad for them. Smoking, for example. Or betting money they can’t afford. Or, whatever.
It describes in terms of brain chemistry, things that happen as people absorb information about the possibilities of bad and good outcomes (the chance you might get cancer, for example). This study suggests that the magnitude of the average person’s adjustments to their behavior based on being exposed to scientific information depend on where they started from–if the data is better for you than you first thought, you’ll adjust to it quickly, but to adjust to a worst case situation requires many more applications of the message. So if you think you have a 70% chance of a bad event occurring, hearing that the real chances are, say, 30% will make you change your framework. But if you thought there was only a 5% chance of that negative outcome to begin with, you won’t change much at all.
Or, in other words, everyone else is hosed, but I’m gonna be just fine.
As we move back into the day-job, I wonder about how this applies to people in corporate leadership roles. All my anecdotal evidence says that it applies in buckets.
I also thought the last third of the story–about optimism and happiness–was fascinating, if not a bit bothersome, as it includes conclusions from Andrew Oswald, a behavioral economist, that suggests (since I’m a male) I’m due to get less happy for another year or two before bottoming out and then getting happy again. Lisa, assuming she’s average per this article, bottomed out some time ago, and is growing happier every danged second.
It’s just no fair.
I wanna be happy now, damnit!
Like everyone else paying any attention, I’m struggling with the fall-out of the latest shootings. I say latest because it’s clear there will be more. My thoughts on the whole subject are gaining more strength as I think about it and as I read and learn more. I tend to not take a firm position on most things until I’ve thought through them pretty thoroughly, and then I tend to not change my mind until something (generally data-based) comes along and catches me full in the face.
This one is really tough. Really tough. I just can’t make myself stop thinking about what it means when a shooter goes to 1st-grade classrooms. It’s just too much.
Some say it’s guns. Some say it’s mental health. I say to those … “yes.” It is all that and a lot more.
The real question, though, is what to do. Nothing? I have my opinion. But I don’t have energy to rant on it now, and really, you just don’t want to hear it. But I’ll say this. Here’s a great post by Tobias Buckell that is chock full of great links you should follow. Spend 30 minutes reading it, and following the links and then following the links in those links.
Go there with open minds. Perhaps you’ll come to the same conclusion I have … or at least I think I have. We’ll see where my brain falls in the next few days.
Until then, here is a link to the names and pictures of the victims.
As anyone who has been listening here knows, both Lisa and I have had nasty colds. I got mine in Chicago, and it was so bad that Lisa took me to the emergency room. We were out of town, after all, and in downtown Chicago. It’s not like we had a lot of medical options. This is a major, major mistake, though, and it describes exactly what is wrong with the health care environment in this country.
I’ll start by noting the people in Chicago’s emergency room were all very nice, and seemed good at their job. I felt miserable, and they were great. I left feeling better than when I came in. Kudos.
But let’s face it, my diagnosis was a probable virus (for which they could do nothing), and a possible sinus infection, for which the doctor prescribed an antibiotic. While there, I received an IV bag of sugar water, two Tylenol, and a chest X-ray to ensure I didn’t have pneumonia. The bill, not counting doctors’ time was $3,200.
You read that right. $3200.
I believe three doctors stopped by my room to give me the once over and arrive at this diagnosis, and their charges are not included in that number. We’re expecting more bills, and I’ll not be surprised if the overall cost of having my probable virus looked at will approach $5K.
My first thought upon getting the bill was “Crap, I shouldn’t have gone to get this looked at. I should have just toughed it out.”
When you stop and look at things you’ll see that this is a really dumb way of thinking. I mean, when you’re sick, you should go to get it taken care of. It’s the right thing to do for both yourself and the rest of the world. But, $5K? Seriously?
Yes, I have insurance, and the company came riding to the rescue. That $3200 bill was reduced to $1200. Oh, joy. Now I’m supposed to be happy to pay $1200 for two Tylenol, an X-ray, and a bag of sugar water. Call me cheap, but wow. The incredible thing here is that for a very few moments I actually felt good about this. After all, I was getting a 62.5% discount! But then reality hit. The Tylenol (which I assume was the $28 pharmaceutical charge itemized on the bill) is worth about a buck, and I had some in my hotel room. The X-ray was a couple hundred dollars as itemized on the bill. Unless a bag of sugar water is valued at something nearing $1K, someone here is getting jobbed.
You can guess who it is.
Back in July, I wrote that “The more I learn about the various systems of the world, and the more I think about us here in the little old US, the more I think that it just really doesn’t matter what system we have insofar as who pays for it. It costs X dollars to fund healthcare, and those X dollars are coming from the folks who have dollars in some form or another. That seems to be the base process. The question of who pays for it is the wrong question.”
I sugar coated what the right question was. The right question is “Why is our basic health care so expensive that the average person can’t afford it on their own?”
Quite honestly, this trip of mine should have been a $600 expense–maybe $800 if I stretch things a bit. Actually, who am I kidding. Even those numbers are a bit mind-boggling. A person with a cold should be able to walk into a medical facility anywhere in the country and for a couple hundred bucks walk out either (a) knowing there’s nothing they can do about it, or (b) with a prescription to fix it. In the case of (c) it’s something worse, then that person gets the “Go to Hospital” card, and things change at that point. Anyway, I digress.
Neither ObamaCare nor RomneyCare nor WhateverCare is going to solve this problem–all they do is make one group of people (or companies) pay more so the others can get something cheaper. So my trip to the ER for my Probably Virus might cost $7K next year or the year after or whenever. I’m not saying that’s the wrong thing to do or the right thing to do. What I’m saying is that neither system is actually attacking the X dollars that our health care costs. All they are focusing on is spreading that X dollars among everyone in some way that they can basically “afford” it. Our health care system lobbyists have successfully kept the focus on the “who pays” question rather than “how much?”
So I’ll need to plan to pay $7K next time. Except, of course, next time it won’t cost that much because there won’t be a next time. I’ll not go to the doctor in that situation. ObamaCare? RomneyCare? TodayCare? Doesn’t matter. I’ll suffer instead. I’ll save the $7K (bargained down to $2800), and just ride out the sonuvagun.
With any luck, it’ll just be a virus.
Great system, eh?
If you don’t follow him, Toby Buckell had a great quickie post up on roboticly driven cars. I’ve always thought this had the best probability of resulting in “public” transportation in the US. We’re a big ol’ nation, after all, and we like having our own car in order to drive from Wyoming to Poughkeepsie or wherever.
But even back in the day it was possible for us to have a string of automatic cars traveling inches apart, so it’s really only a matter of time. So, while it’s hard to get lots of politicians to get together and do things like spend a ton of money on advance public mass transportation, I can see people eventually being okay with sitting in their cars and enjoying a quiet ride into work.
Crazy? Maybe. But stranger things have happened.
In an interview back a bit ago, I mentioned that I thought the world would be getting more global (well, duh, right?). Here’s an example of something cool and gadgety that will almost certainly make it more fun.
Can’t wait to see it when it gets to be a commodity.
Thought for the day: the thing that has me most worried about the health care debate in the US is not whether ObamaCare is terrible or whether the punishment for not buying insurance is a tax or not. It’s that the politicians and health care providers seem to have us exactly where they want us–arguing amongst each other for who is going to pay the bill rather than focusing on the fact that the bill is something in the range of double what it really ought be. I mean, this is not really about socialism and independent freedom as we’re constantly trying to make it out to be. If that’s what you think, there is a distinct possibility you’re missing a serious truth about the way the country works.
Or maybe it’s just me, I dunno.
After all, our healthcare system is already socially funded. Medicare and Medicade are, of course, the most obvious examples. The emergency room is the less obvious example, but just as relevant. No one will be turned down at an emergency room, and that is truly the most expensive healthcare that is possible to exist. We pay for it, of course. Some in taxes, and some in inflated costs of other hospital services. But we pay for it, and you don’t see folks lining up to protest that fact.
The more I learn about the various systems of the world, and the more I think about us here in the little old US, the more I think that it just really doesn’t matter what system we have insofar as who pays for it. It costs X dollars to fund healthcare, and those X dollars are coming from the folks who have dollars in some form or another. That seems to be the base process. The question of who pays for it is the wrong question.
And so, you might ask, what is the right question?
Simple, I think. The answer is that there are two correct questions, and those two are (in the correct order of priority): (1) Which system holds the greatest promise to actually reduce the real cost of healthcare, and (2) which system does the best at improving the quality of life of the most people?
I would love to hear the people of our country focus on these two questions–to agree that these are the two questions that matter most. Until we get to that point, the discussion is not particularly worthwhile, because in all seriousness, neither our current system nor Obamacare seems to be particularly useful in resolving the first and most important issue. And in my very humble opinion, the cost issues is the driver. It doesn’t matter if you or I have to pay for anything if neither one of us can afford it.
Don’t think cost is number one? Seriously? Here is a report I linked to earlier that describes costs of various country’s health care as a percentage of GDP, and here is a blog post by Roger Ebert regarding the victim of the recent shooting in Aurora who (1) has no insurance, and (2) racked up $2M in health care costs in two days.
$2M in two days?
I don’t know about you but when I hear $2M for two days, the question of who pays it is not the first thing that comes to my mind. It makes me wonder about our politicians that they merely flame the fires of our conversation. I mean, you know? It feels like I’m watching this huge game of three-card Monte with the government as the dealer and the media as the shill.
Then again, maybe it’s just me. Dunno.
I read this a few days back off someone’s Twitter feed. I can’t remember who, so sorry I can’t attribute it properly. It’s long, of course. But it’s interesting on a lot of levels–anything having to do with privacy and “hackers” (meaning anything done with computers and a sufficiently creative mindset) and the secret service is going to be, now, isn’t it?
I think this one raises above the norm, though, for it’s inclusion of the question of “what is art.” Can an action be art? Does art require anything beyond a statement? In this case, what part is art and what part is merely intrusion? Does it matter, and should it matter?
I don’t know that I’ve come to conclusions on these questions, but the piece makes me feel different things when I think of it in different ways, which, in itself is all kinda glorious in its recursive meta-ness now, isn’t it?
Jul 7, 2012 The World
There is an experiment in pricing where you offer people an $8 bottle of wine and a $15 bottle of wine. In this scenario, the majority of people buy the $8 bottle. But add a $50 bottle of wine to the list and you find a majority of people by the $15 bottle.
People are strange, eh?
These things make economists go crazy, but that’s just because the impression is that all economic decisions are made in a frame of reference that includes only dollars and cents. I think most people who are thinking about these things realize that the value people get from their decisions comes in different currencies. Yes, cash makes a difference, but you’ll also buy the $15 bottle if you think you’re getting a good deal–and the existence of a $50 bottle makes that seem like a better deal than before. Or, you also might get value out of feeling a little frugal, and without a $50 option, the $15 bottle just seems frivolous–almost twice the expense of a lower cost item. This math doesn’t change, with the $50 inclusion, of course, but when you compare the costs to the most possible, which your mind might be doing, the difference ([15-8]/50 = 14%) just feels a lot smaller.
I’m thinking about this now because of a debate my friend and sometimes collaborator John Bodin and I had on Facebook relative to the health care situation and ObamaCare and all that.
I’m not going to pretend I know what we should actually do regarding the program. I have opinions, sure. But spouting my opinion here is not overly helpful. I don’t, for example, think that anyone has ever changed how they are going to vote by reading my blog or anyone else…so why waste my breath.
But I’m wondering if maybe I can get you to rethink about how important you think this thing might be.
After all, most of the time the American public doesn’t even really think health care is that important of an issue. It’s like the $15 bottle of wine in that case. What do I mean?
Here’s a Gallup poll that tracks how often Americans list Health Care as the top priority facing the country.
Here’s the graph:
So on average over the past twenty years, that number is about 6% (just eyeballing it), unless the current round of politicians has stirred up interest in it. The 1993 spike was focused on the Clinton effort. The 2010 spike is the ObamaCare moment. Otherwise Health Care is the $15 bottle of wine the very few people really care to buy.
And so, the questions I’m asking myself now are: Why all the passion now? What value are people getting out of the argument when it seems that it would be more efficient to spend their time on things that mattered to them?
Is it that there is some inherent value humans get out of the act of arguing? That we do not really want to be one whole? That we do not truly respect diversity of opinion? Is it that, on the whole we have a need to compete? That we want to win, and that we know in our hearts that if we are to win, we must be matched with someone who must therefore lose? Do we argue about things we don’t really care about and take dramatic stands on them specifically because it feeds our ability to feel separate and superior?
I don’t know.
But as a writer, I’m trying to think about these things. And as a person who works in a field where understanding how human beings think about and react to their surroundings is the difference between success and failure, I find the subject both fascinating and of the utmost importance.
If all of that is true, I ask, how do we find the balance?
How do we win?
And, in the end, who is “we?”
Lisa and I were talking as we walked back from the Health Club this noontime. This fits our morning process on weekend days anymore, BTW, I write (or race) or whatever in the early morning, then we walk the mile and a half to the Health Club. We work out for an hour or so, then walk back. While returning today, Lisa thought back to the earliest days when we struggled to make it much past 7,000 steps a day. March, 2011, for example, the record says I managed only 9.1K steps a day–but as we discussed that felt like pretty good progress.
Today we do … uh … a little better than that.
Over the past year and a half or so, I’ve averaged 17,975 steps a day. I know this thanks to the tracker that comes with or company’s inclusion in the Virgin Health Miles program. (We’ll ignore the 40-60K or so steps I lost in a technical mishap … seriously … it doesn’t bother me, not one bit. The idea that the extra 100 or so steps a day that would raise my average would get me up over 18,000 doesn’t even cross my mind at all. Nope, it’s really okay).
During this time I’ve registers over 8.5 million steps. It’s 4:30 PM as I write this. My pedometer registers 17,095. I expect I’ll be well over 20K by bedtime. I’m averaging 21,927 a day over the past 11 days, and over 20,000 steps a day for the past five months, so that’s not overly surprising.
And to be blunt, Lisa kicks my tail here. It’s a very rare day that she goes to bed with less than 21,000 steps.
I’m thinking about this now both because we talked about it, and because of an article Lisa sent me a bit ago about marketing and Target and habits. Read it. It’s a scary article in some ways, but massively interesting. The most interesting thing to me is the entire discussion around habits, triggers for those habits, and the whole reward cycle. They say it takes 30 days to establish a habit, and maybe that’s true in our case, because within a month (April 2011) I was up in that 16-17K step/day range, and have inched up pretty steadily since then.
In the process of getting more active, we’ve made a series of fairly simple changes in our basic approach to life, but I’m thinking now of so simple triggers. Things like, as soon as I get up off the couch I immediately want to move. I don’t want to sit down until I’ve registered some semi-serious steps. Things like, when I’m walking to my car at work, I have a tendency to want to walk more along the edge of the parking lot than directly to my car. This adds probably 100 steps to my path, or as many as 200 a day. I do this without thinking anymore. I just see the car across the way (or think of it if it’s hidden behind a truck or whatever…my Miata is pretty tiny relative to most other vehicles), and I get a dutiful sense to walk it across and over. Makes me think of crossword puzzles.
I could go on.
I can’t for example, sit calmly on the couch without a laptop anymore. If I don’t have the laptop on my lap I’m conditioned to get up and at least kind of bop around while we’re watching TV. No value in just sitting there. Lisa goes a step further (pun intended?) and plugs her laptop in at the kitchen so she can move while she’s surfing. It’s her own take on one of those treadmill desks at work–which, BTW, I try to use _at least_ an hour a day. I find they are great for wading through email with. And I get a considerable amount of email.
So, yeah, I can still go on, but you get the drift or you’ve already left.
What is my point?
Hmmm. It was something about habits. I’m sure of that. Habits, yes.
I need to think more about how habits affect my life. I need to use this knowledge better. I do not want Target to be better at manipulating me than I am, after all. I’m struggling a lot with time management right now in a lot of ways. At points I resent the decisions I’m forcing myself to make regarding how I spend my time. And so I need to do better.
Perhaps you do, too. Or maybe you’re doing just fine. Dunno. But either way the article is worth your time.
I admit I’m not sure what I should feel about it all. I want to be happy that Osama bin Laden is dead, and I am. It is a strange thing, however, to be happy that someone is dead. It gives me, perhaps, a very small sense of what it felt like to be alive in the US during World War II and the subsequent years. Still, there are ugly things that float in that stream of vengeance, things I don’t want to have in my psyche.
On the other hand, I saw a Mark Twain quote tweeted a bit ago that read “I’ve never wished a man dead, but I have read some obituaries with great pleasure.” This I get.
Sure, there will be someone to carry on for Osama bin Laden. Of course the “War on Terror” is still a false war, one that can never be declared over. This is not relevant to the issue. You don’t for example, let a child cheat on a test merely because you know that stopping one cheater is meaningless, that another will just grow in his place. We don’t let weeds grow in our yards merely because we know that removing them leaves room for another. Removing Hitler from Germany in 1938 would not have changed the environment that created and fostered him–who is to say that WW II wasn’t inevitable? And yet, I think it would be unusual to find a knowledgeable person who wouldn’t agree to give it a go without Hitler if they could go back in time and make it so.
There will always be conflict among humans, and as long as there is conflict there will be environments for terrorists and rebel freedom-fighters and whatever.
Today I’ve looked at video of celebrations, and I’ve heard the chants at games “USA, USA, USA!” and I’ve been filled with many emotions. Mostly I remember the events of that morning of September 11, and the aftermath. And in the end I think this is good. Yes. This is very good.
Oct 3, 2008 The World
Yes, I suppose it’s about $700B of corporate greed. And yes, I agree it’s not a good idea to reward bad decisions by paying off the big-wigs who made them. But I think that’as all missing the point.
I was talking to a co-worker the other day and I said: You know, I really don’t care how we get out of it. I just know we need to do something, and it needs to work. But what I want to know is this: who in the government is responsible? Is this really Bush thing? Did it start with congress? If so, tell me which congress folks. Are the culprits appointed? Who are these overseers and what were they doing?
We agreed that it would be nice to know these things.
All the fingers seem to be pointing to Bush–a lame duck president who isn’t well-liked at present, and for some pretty good reasons. But is he at fault here? Is it his administration?
I wanted to know, and neither one of us could really answer the question. So we agreed we were basically just angry.
Then Lisa sent me this: this.
I’m sure there will be more, but this makes me take some of the things the Dems have been saying with a few more grains of salt than usual.
I am, by the way, a currently undecided voter who is watching this race with quite a bit of spectator interest.