Thursday, May 31, 2007

Do we compare our partners too much to porn?

Thinking in less moralistic, more utilitarian terms, I would think that romance novels and "wholesome culture" provide the real comparative problems. People see "happily married couples" in popular culture and wonder why their marriage doesn't work as well. They become unhappy and dissatisfied, rather than learning to deal with their problems.

Porn, at worst, makes you think your partner is fat, blemished, and ugly. Either sophisticated intellect or raw animal desire (but which one? can both work, or do they operate against each other?) can get you over that hurdle. But what is to get one over being "a marital purist"? After all, to think a marriage can be perfect feels like such a noble sentiment.

Maybe porn (of all things) plays a positive role here. It convinces its viewers that desire is invariably laden with ambiguities and contradictions. Might even the stupid porn users be capable of picking this up?

Very quick, healthy Chinese dishes which you can make a zillion times in a row

Heat some peanut oil and fry some minced, wet ginger in it. Turn up the heat and add in green beans. I prefer "French beans" chopped in half, but any kind of greens will work. Put in a tiny amount of rice vinegar. Put in a tablespoon or a bit more of Chinese cooking wine, Shao Xing or the best you can get. Periodically add a bit of dark soy sauce. A bit of Virginia Smithfield ham is nice as well. Serve over steamed rice, wash and soak the rice in water before steaming it and don't cook it to full dryness. You can add hot stuff to this dish as well.

Just how late will you be?

If a New Yorker is two minutes late, their companions are tapping their feet and tearing their hair, because small delays can quickly translate into big ones during off peak hours.

Here is more. In car-heavy, traffic-jam prone, but rarely a sig alert with all lanes closed suburbia, late people, if indeed they are late, are almost always just about twenty minutes late.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

How do faces get shaped?

Walking around in another country it is hard not to notice that faces have different shapes than I am used to. Nor is it just genetics. The American face is distinct -- loose, happy, and flabby -- but the country is quite recent and clearly there is no unique American race. (How long did it take for this face to arise?)

Peer effects, as passed down from older generations, are the obvious mechanism for how these faces get shaped. So sometimes when I walk around in other countries I see, in my mind's eye, the older people pulling on the faces of the younger. All over the street, I see face-pulling cosmic rays emanating from eyes of the older brothers, yanking and tugging on the skin of the younger brothers.

Does it ever hurt? How many other body parts get shaped this way?

Laugh along with dead people

I remember reading somewhere that the laugh tracks that they use on most TV shows are sometimes 50 years old, and that [cue spooky music] you're laughing along with dead people. And I was just idly sitting here thinking, really? Is it true? Or is it an urban myth? I just can't believe that laughing then and laughing now are exactly the same.

It seems to be true, read the comments.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Schopenhauer on national character

"National character is only another name for the particular form which the littleness, perversity and baseness of mankind take in every country. Every nation mocks at other nations, and all are right."

Here are more excellent quotations.

What is the difference between the theater and the church?

I can never figure out Kierkegaard's attitude to organized religion:

The difference between the theater and the church is essentially this: the theater honorably and honestly acknowledges being what it is. The church, however, is a theater that in every way dishonestly seeks to conceal what it is.

An example. On the theater poster it always states plainly: money will not be returned. The church, this solemn holiness, would shrink from the offensiveness, the scandalousness, of placing this directly over the church door, or having it printed under the list of preachers on Sundays... The actor is an honest man who says outright: I am an actor. Never for any price, never for any price would one get a pastor to say that.

Kierkegaard was himself a pastor, though he retired from church work in the later part of his life.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

"The girlfriend"

For all the talk of Wolfowitz in the blogosphere, few have analyzed his romantic relationship with his partner, Shaha Riza. This event will define her reputation for the rest of her life, a'la Monica Lewinsky. But unlike Lewinsky, she was already talented at work and quite accomplished. So the tarnishing of her name seems like a real shame. Should he not have resigned quite early, over romantic "duty" to her? Presumably we are to think she has encouraged him to fight on. Shouldn't he have quit anyway? Shouldn't her (supposed) obligingness have made him quit early all the more?

But he fought long and hard.

Is there any chance they simply split up over this episode? Are there any scenarios under which this has improved their relationship? Would an early quitting have caused them to split up, or suffer several very hard years, due to the feeling of asymmetric sacrifice? How does that compare to the asymmetric sacrifices they must suffer now?

I've thought far more about these issues than all that conflict of interest stuff or whether W. was ever a good World Bank president. Does that make me crazy? Why is no one asking whether Coase Theorem applies within their relationship?

Friday, May 4, 2007

An even better idea

When unmarried couples date, they should be forced to rent a child for the duration of the evening (some call this "Markets in Everything"). That way they know how well they do when there is a child around. Special bonus deals will include children with runny noses and twins who slug each other. Note that this also will improve the marriages of the people who are renting out the kids.

Once a couple have their own, they can dispense with the rentals. In the meantime, they are building their relationship around the presence of a child. They know what to expect.

Alternatively, one might vow to only date people who already have kids.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Predictors of marital compatibility, post-child

I am not so sure that pre-child happiness is a good predictor. Going to the theater together might have been great, but those days are over.

Great sex may be a negative predictor. The less frequent and thrilling the sex, the easier it is to give it up and focus on the kid.

So what are the predictors?

1. Lack of other common interests, beyond the child. That makes it easier for the child to be the new center of attention.

2. Religion, and the belief that child-rearing is essential to God's plan, and not just in terms of agnotheist Bayesian expected value.

3. Ability to talk oneself out of building resentments, which are inevitable.

4. Clearly defined division of labor within the household.

5. Similar taste in television programs and/or childrens' movies.

6. Resources to hire outside help, or nearby friendly and grandchild-loving parents.

I suspect #2 and #3 are most important on this list, maybe #6 too.

How to help your friends overcome their self-doubt

A common tactic is to reassure our self-doubting friends about how great they are. Increasingly I believe this does not work. Often the doubt is there in the first place as a protective measure against failure and disappointment. If you talk the friend up, the friend in turn has to doubt herself more.

If a friend doubts herself, often it is better to respond by doubting that same friend all the more.

It is as if the friend needs a fixed amount of doubt. The more you carry that load, the less the friend has to doubt herself to reach the fixed level of doubt needed to produce preemptive protection and reassurance.