Monday, January 28, 2008

MOCKINGBIRD

I participated in a psychological experiment today. I was deceived, but at least I got $3.75 out of it. It is a little complicated, so bear with me.

I sat down at a table opposite another dude. We were given the following rules:
1. One person will be player A, the other will be player B.
2. Player A will receive 10 quarters. He may keep as a many as he wants, and put as many as he wants into an envelope.
3. The quarters put in the envelope will be tripled and given to player B.
4. Player B may now divide up the quarters as he sees fit and send as many as he wants back to player A, keeping the rest for himself.

For those of you keeping track at home, the most equitable situation would be for player A to send all 10 quarters and for player B to split the resulting 30 quarters in half, resulting in 15 quarters per person.

Experimenter dude let us sit and discuss strategy for a minute. We both agreed to do the most equitable thing, and also acknowledged that even if we were planning to screw the other guy we wouldn't have said it. The experimenter returned and held out a tupperware with two slips of paper in it and told us each to draw one. We were instructed not to open it in order to avoid "awkwardness." We took our slips and my counterpart was escorted to a separate room.

I opened up my slip and discovered that I was player A. I was a little bummed about this, because I had wanted to count up my 30 quarters and toy with player A's fate in my head. As it was, I just tossed all 10 quarters in and sent it off.

As I was waiting there, I noticed that there was an animal-themed word find laying on the table. Of course I started to fill it out. I was so busy circling "PARAKEET" and "WHALE" that I barely had time to push the word find aside when experimenter guy came back in. I'm not sure why I tried to act like I wasn't doing the word find. There's a psychological question for you--was I worried that I was breaking some kind of rule? Was the word find even supposed to be there?

In any case, the experimenter gave me the envelope back from player B. Lo and behold, it contained only 2 quarters. What a shithead, I said to myself. Keeping $7 in quarters all to himself. Then I realized that I very well might have done the same thing and I felt a little more understanding.

The experimenter asked me to move over to a computer on a nearby table, where I completed a little electronic survey about my feelings, rating statements on a scale from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree). They were all "I feel betrayed by the other player" and "I hope something bad happens to him/her." I think my feelings of "Eh, it's $3" were pretty well conveyed.

THEN I played a little computer game, vaguely reminiscent of the Jack Attack from the excellent computer trivia game You Don't Know Jack. I was given four categories of words: self (I, me, my, mine, self), other (their, them, they, other), respect words (worthy, strong, respectable, etc), and disrespect words (weak, despicable, disrespectful, etc.). Before each round I was given a set of one or two categories (self, other and respect, self and disrespect, etc.), and I was only to press the space bar when those words came up, ignoring the other words.

After a few rounds of that, experimenter guy showed up and explained that the other player had felt guilty and had sent me some more quarters. The envelope he handed me this time had another 10 quarters in it.

The experimenter typed in some password and a filled in another survey, this one all about if I forgave the other player for his transgression or not. I pretty much did. Then I did some more word association reaction time games, and then worked on the animal word find some more.

I got pretty paranoid about the word find. I was certain that it was the true focus of the test.

Other guy came in with experimenter dude and we were debriefed. As it turned out, both slips said "player A" on them, and we both got only two quarters back, and then got 10 more when "player B felt guilty." In some other trials, the participants will not get the extra 10 quarters. As someone who just took his first Intro to Psych exam, I can tell you that that's your independent variable right there.

I guess the hypothesis was that IF you didn't get any more quarters and IF you indicated that you still forgave the other player, you would do better on the "self/disrespect" rounds than on the "self/respect" rounds.

Then, for "ethical reasons," we both got 15 quarters. I plan to use it to launder my sheets.

My sister and her roommate Elise, who sit around all day and talk about psychology, were skeptical about the validity of the experiment. I still think it should have been about the word find.

P.S.: The wet shaving supplies arrived the other day and yesterday I did my first wet shave. Conclusion: it felt cool, but I did not get a very close shave. I think I need some practice. For now, check out this hilariously insulting "Are you a straight razor guy or a safety razor guy?" Jeff Foxworthy-style page from www.classicshaving.com, your one stop shop for all your shaving needs. It makes me (a "safety razor guy") sound like a squealing ninny.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Raisin' and Razin'


Do you see that pointy house in the middle there?

I am now contractually obligated to pay the rent there for a year, starting next October.

Awesome!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

And In God's Name They Built A Barbed Wire Fence

So about this blog...

I carry on regular correspondences with about four people, plus my parents. I only have so many ideas and observations. This blog tends to lose out. Sorry about that. If you've just gotta have the latest, mail me a letter:
Room 4037
1820 Chicago Ave
Evanston, IL 60201

1. I have decided to get a house with 7 other dudes next year. I signed a goddamned lease yesterday and wrote a check for fifteen hundred goddamned dollars and signed about 5 goddamned forms promising that I won't cover every surface with lead paint or use the Americanium in the smoke detectors to make a dirty bomb. I am extremely excited at the prospect of living in this house. I can almost taste the memories. Also the regret.

2. One other absorber of my blog-type attention has been, you guessed it, another blog. Part of my enormous special humanities seminar thingy is a weekly blog. All my blogging practice finally paid off; people, my professors included, liked my blog. They were all amazed by my flippant tone and adept application of silly photographs.

Last quarter we just wrote about the readings, so while my posts may have been enteretaining for other people who had spent the last week reading Francis Bacon's New Atlantis or Denis Diderot's Encyclop├ędie, I don't think you folks would have found them to be of that much interest.

This quarter, however, we're getting more precise blog assignments
, often only tangentially related to the readings. I think my latest one has enough universal appeal to appear on this blog. Let's give it a try, shall we?

Focus text for the week: Max Weber's The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, in which Weber argues that our modern capitalist system arose in part because of a deepening of religious irrationalism among Protestants. Ascetic Calvinists and Methodists came to associate worldly financial success with the favor of God, and these frugal, hardworking suckers formed the basis of capitalism as we know it today.


Prompt:
What are modern day examples of asceticism in American culture? Do they seem to have any relationship to capitalist economic behavior? Back up your examples by linking to a relevant image on the Web.

I Know I'm A Million Times More Humble Than Thou Art

I wasn’t so sure about this topic at first. I got the feeling that it was just going to lead to 48 blog posts about the Amish and all the quilts they sell. I'm still not sure about the image thing: I hope Weird Al is up to snuff.

Then I figured there could be some interesting observations made about how the Amish are pretty damn economically backwards because they’re preternatural industriousness is far more than offset by their stubborn Luddism (I hate myself so much after writing that last clause. “Luddism,” much like “paradigm” and “dichotomy,” is a word that should be used once ever 8 years).

I like to think I know a thing or two about the Amish. I have driven by their buggies. I have purchased baskets from them. I have ridden the train with them. I saw the excellent movie Witness with Harrison Ford, and the less-than-excellent movie For Richer Or Poorer with Tim Allen and Kirstie Alley.

In my mind, the Amish cleave pretty closely to Weber’s idea of the Protestant work ethic. Inspired by their religion, they lead simple, frugal, hardworking lives, avoiding indulgence of the senses by luxury or sins of the flesh. They work the land and craft simple artifacts, all for the greater glory of God.

And yet, despite their extraordinary work ethic, the Amish are not a dominant economic force in America. There are no Amish multi-national corporations (AmCorp). Amish never seem to show up on those lists of the world’s richest people.

Given the limitations that they place on themselves (limited technology, no work on Sundays, etc.), the Amish are quite economically successful--more so than, say, a bunch of Kaplan Scholars would be, given a plot of land and a couple of hoes. But, from the point of view of today’s economic leaders, aren’t those self-imposed limitations rather sinful?

For the most successful, the only luxury that should be given up is the luxury of doing things that cost money or weaken investment return. Any other asceticism is selfish and immoral. Money spent on a suit that increases your respectability and allows you to close a deal, or on a jet that gets you where you need to be on time, is money well and morally spent. Modern business people, the corporate grinders of the NY Times article, could accuse the Amish of being prideful and prone to luxury, maintaining their old-fashioned lifestyles for their own pleasure at the expense of making money, being more successful, and participating in and enriching God’s world.

In fact, I snooped around a bit and came across an interesting group of Christians who are doing their best to evangelize the Amish. According to their website, the Mission to Amish People, or MAP, seeks not only to “reach the Amish people with the gospel of Jesus Christ in accordance with Mark 16:15,” but also to help them to acquire such “basic life skills” as” applying for a Social Security card, completing employment applications,” “preparing for job interviews, finding a residence, acquiring home furnishings,” and “opening bank accounts and understanding practical financial management practices.” Here are some Protestants (Baptists, to be precise) who want the Amish to get over themselves, give up their man-made guidelines, and come join the real world.

Fun Amish fact from Joe Keim, executive director of the Mission to Amish People:
“The Beechy Amish are considered to be the most liberal group of all, and yet even they follow their own man-made rule book (ordinance letter). For instance, they are allowed to drive cars, but their rule book says that they are not allowed to buy a car newer than two years old, and within six months they have to paint the car black, including the bumpers.”

Also, here is a hilarious photo of Joe and his family, sun-dappled on the train tracks.
Kinda makes you proud to be an American, you know?



Fun with Limericks:

So Professor O’Driscoll asked our class to come up with a mnemonic device for remembering the main point of Weber. We didn’t have too long, so I only finished about half of my limerick. I spent another 20 mintues on it after class and came up with this:

There once was a fellow named Weber,
Who knew why the Lutherans loved labor:
To prove to the rest
That you’re one of the best
You’ve just gotta earn more than your neighbor


I had to use “Lutherans” because I needed two syllables and you can say it “Looth-runs.” This is not so easy with “Calvinists.” I figured “Lutherans” could be a stand-in for all Protestants.

I had a little trouble with the central couplet. I got the impression that Calvinism was really more about proving your status as an “elect” to yourself, not to others, so I tried

To prove to yourself
You aren’t headed for Hell


But “self” and “Hell” don’t really rhyme. I tried

To prove to the ladies
You aren’t headed for Hades


and

To prove to the dreck
You’re among the elect


But again, the latter didn’t really rhyme, and the former seemed inaccurate because Calvinists weren’t really all that into the ladies, at least not openly. Plus, what about the Calvinist chicks?

Heh heh. “Calvinist chicks.”

I think maybe I’ll compose a whole series of Important Economics Thinkers Limericks. I think that would be a really great use of my time.

Adam Smith defied all expectations
When he said in his The Wealth of Nations:
“An invisible force,
Will lift all up, of course,
If each seeks his own compensation.”


Now, what rhymes with Malthus?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Big Payback

My CA (like an RA, except with a Community instead of a Resident), Andy, is a good natured Chinese man who is always trying to get our apathetic wing to join together and do fun team building activities. Nobody does, but that doesn't stop Andy from trying. Lately, in a shocking display of anti-hall unity behavior, several residents have torn down the little signs with our names on them that Andy lovingly affixed in the days prior to our arrival. Andy has rallied back from this blow by proposing a hall-wide contest to design the new door signs with a $30 prize. Here is my template:
I am counting on no one else entering this contest and my becoming the de facto $30 winner.

Also I would get a sweet dinosaur on my door.

P.S.: When I handed this to Andy, he said "Awesome!" in a very convinced tone. I think he was happy someone entered his contest.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Dark Fire Shall Not Avail You

So I got an email from my pappy the other day in which he suggested I check out the following videos on wet shaving, i.e. old timey lather and safety razor shaving. I think this may have something to do with my enormous post-Christmas shaving related blunder (I spent $80 on an electric razor I wasn't too sure about and ultimately decided wasn't worth it. I paid for it in CASH [xmas money from my grandma] and DIDN'T KEEP THE RECEIPT).

Anyways, my pa offered to help me out financially with wet shaving start up costs and I may have to take him up on the offer.




Also:

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Earwax Spooning

Goddamnit, Japan, why do you have to be so creepy sometimes?

I mean, look at this.

Yes, that's what it looks like. A girlfriend lap pillow. For $95.

Japan...look, I'm not gonna hate on you. Life is tough, what with the high priced pillows and repressed sexual urges.

But, c'mon, Japan. Get your shit together.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

1.1.08

1.

"An American near Billy wailed that he had excreted everything but his brains. Moments later he said,
'There they go, there they go.' He meant his brains. That was I. That was me. That was the author of this book." -Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse Five.


Well hell, it's 2008. Let's blog a bit, shall we?

I had a pretty shitty New Year's Eve. On New Year's Eve Eve, I ate a turkey dinner with the family, got a malt at Perkins with a certain Muslim acquaintance of mine, and went bowling with Sam Walker and Sam Walker's girlfriend and Sam Walker's sister.

Later I said goodbye to my guests with a slight quiver of nausea in my midsection. I tried to get to sleep, but my stomach was having none of it. I decided that this was one of those unfortunate situations where I just had to throw up, get whatever it was out of my system, and eat an extra meal the next day to make up for it. I was wrong.

I'll spare you the gory details. Let's just say I was up all night shitting and vomiting that by the next morning my body contained very little digestible material. By 7 a.m. I was all emptied out, but still feverish, achey, and not at all interested in food. In the past 36 or so hours, I've eaten 5 club crackers and a banana.

I've been told by some experienced sources that my symptoms are similar to those of food poisoning. My only question is, what could I have eaten that triggered this full-body flush-out? It wasn't the turkey dinner, as no other member of my family got sick. I didn't eat anything at the bowling alley. Really, the only unique thing I ate was that chocolate malt from Perkins. Can you get food poisoning from a malt?

Today I have outwitted my body by not putting anything in it for it to expel. Count it!

2. I saw I Am Legend the other day. I thought it was pretty good.

***SPIZOILER ALIZERT***

I have an odd relationship with zombie movies. Zombies scare me worse that pretty much anything (my boggart would definitely be someone I cared about as a zombie) so while I don't like to think about them all the time, they can be very effective when I want to get freaked out. Will Smith was ballin', of course, and there was a very good, heartwrenching "killing a zombie of a friend" scene, but the zombies themselves were disappointing, both visually (they were all rubbery and stretchy and shitty CGI-y) and conceptually. Half of the fear in any scary story comes from realism, from the idea that it could really happen. There is not a universally accepted archetype for zombies, as there is for vampires, for example (i.e. killed by sunlight or a stake through the heart, drink blood, etc.), so in every zombie story it is the creator's responsibility to establish plausible and consistent (and therefore more real and more terrifying) zombies.

I Am Legend
fails on this count. The zombies are batshit crazy and cannot speak or use weapons, but they show signs of human-level intelligence. Also they're super strong for some reason? And as I said before, they look terrible, which does nothing to add to their credibility.

At least they got Will Smith. What a bankable SOB. $76 million in a weekend.

Fuckin' A, Will Smith.
Fuckin' A.