March 2010


I’m keeping track of what species I’m eating this week, for a blog post. Michael Pollan says in In Defense of Food that it’s probably a good idea to eat a large variety of species. So I thought I’d keep track and see.

Tonight I ate dinner as I often do with my friend Seth Rydmark. He lives in a Christian dormitory that offers free dinners to guests of dormees. It’s a nice bunch of kids. (And beautiful singers–ever notice that Christians can mostly sing? They know the harmonies for “Happy Birthday”–stuff like that.) Seth and I get geeky about psychology (and sometimes theology) and are usually by far the last to leave the table, deep in some obscure conversation. Tonight, the salad was made of one of those baby-green mixes and I was trying to identify the species. I asked Seth if he knew the name of that pale, frizzy stuff. He said no and asked the girl next to him, and explained my project. She said, “Why would anyone want to do that?”

Seth said, “Well, you know, whatever there is in life, there’s a nerd for that. And Nathen is a nerd’s nerd.”

I’ve been working my whole life to deserve a compliment like that!

And by the way, does anyone out there know the name of that pale, frizzy salad green?

I listened to the new seminar from The Long Now Foundation today, by Beth Noveck. (You should listen to the Long Now Seminars, too, by the way. They are a series of great lectures by really smart people applying long-term thinking to their area of expertise. Find them here.) She is Obama’s Deputy Chief Technology Officer for Open Government. Her lecture is called “Transparent Government.” It’s not nearly the best of the series, but I was interested in what she was saying about what some private companies are doing with the data that is now available about the operations of the government. She talked about Sunlight Foundation‘s coverage of the health care summit, how as each politician spoke, you could see who donated how much to their campaigns. I imagined video of the speakers, with subtitles laying out the relevant campaign contributions floating in front of their faces. I checked it out and it wasn’t like that. It was more like a chat that happened at the same time as the summit. Pretty cool, but probably too much work to catch on with the public.

But why can’t we have what I imagined? It seems like it could be automated. The data is available. We have face-recognition programs and voice-recognition programs. I wonder how it would change things if there was a cheap app that effortlessly outed any politician in real time like that, if a senator speaking about health care reform could be seen as a mouthpiece for insurance companies, based on the actual amount of money they’ve received. It would make politics more entertaining to watch, at the least. And probably creepier, too, but I am willing to make that trade-off.

My good friend Grace has adopted a boy from Ethiopia, Rahmiel Yared Llewellyn. I got to meet him for the first time last week. He was immediately friendly with me and we had fun throwing a bouncy-ball around. It’s just wonderful to see how much he and Grace have bonded already. They seem just right for each other.

Yared and Grace, 2/20/2010

Here’s part 5 of the stuff I learned in my undergrad in psychology that I thought should have been headlines. If you missed them, here are part 1, part 2, part 3, & part 4. As always, if you are interested or skeptical, leave me a comment and I’ll give you my sources.

If You Punish Your Kids, Use the Mildest Effective Punishment: Do the mildest thing you can that stops the behavior you don’t want. The reason is that a punishment that is harsher than necessary takes the child’s initiative for stopping the behavior out of the picture. If you say “Hey, don’t do that,” and the child responds, they come to think that they didn’t really want to do that thing anyway, since such a mild rebuke got them to stop. Psychologists call these principles “insufficient punishment” and “self-persuasion.” These are research findings, not just speculation. If you sit on and beat your child to get them to stop doing something (as suggested by Mike & Debi Pearl), they will believe something more like “That activity was so great that I’ve only stopped because of that horrible punishment.” In other words, the form of the punishment affects the identity of the child–do they behave well because they think of themselves as well-behaved, or do they behave well only because they fear punishment?

You May Want Your Kids To Be Less Blindly Obedient Than Most People: One of the most famous psychological experiments of all time found that most people risked killing someone they barely knew, given an institutional setting and an authority telling them to do it. The Nazis were mostly not evil, just obedient, like most of us.

Humans Can Be Conformist to the Point of Doubting Their Own Senses:

Each Ethical Decision You Make Affects Your Future Ethical Decisions and Your Identity: If you, say, decide to cheat on a test, you will be more likely to cheat on tests in the future, think of yourself as someone who cheats on tests, and form permissive attitudes about cheating. The opposite is true if you decide not to cheat on a test.

Complement Your Kids For the How Hard They Work, Not How Smart They Are: Getting attention for being smart tends to make kids want to appear smart, which makes them choose easier challenges and lighter competition; it’s the success that matters. Getting attention for hard work does the opposite. This means that these kids will end up smarter than the kids who got attention for being smart.

Teach Your Kids to Think About Intelligence as a Fluid Property: That is, teach them that they can become more intelligent by trying. The more they believe it, the more it will be true for them.

If Your Kids Read, Don’t Reward Them For Reading: They will be more likely to stop, if you do, because they will start to think of reading as something they do to be rewarded, not because they like it. If they don’t read, reward them for reading. This goes for other activities, too.

Two of my good friends, Mo’ and Chad, have never met, even though I’ve known Chad for 33 years and Mo’ for 9. It’s geographical–Mo’ is part of my Oregon community and Chad is in southern California. It’s too bad because they’re both really funny and it would be great to get to watch them riff. Mo’, for example, early on, decided that Chad was my imaginary friend and made a lot of good fun of me: “Oh, riiight, Nathen– “Chad” climbed Mt. Whitney with you…” etc.

When Chad married another good friend of mine, Jeannie, a few years ago, Mo’ and his partner Vangie made this video for them. I’m not sure how funny it will be if you don’t know Mo’ or Chad, but if you’re reading this blog, you probably know one or both of them, and I think it’s just plain funny:

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