Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Making it easier to say no: Personal policies

Time-use surveys reveal that we have more leisure time than in decades past—but you’d hardly know it from how busy everyone feels. A prime reason for our modern busyness is, of course, our inability to just say no... to the endless demands on our time. So how do you say no without looking or feeling like a jerk? Enter “personal policies.”

Personal policies are an established set of simple rules that guide your decisions and actions. On the surface, they offer a gentler way of saying no, as in: “I don’t take work calls on Saturdays because that’s my time with family.” On a deeper level, they encourage reflection, help to define priorities and aid decision-making, especially with in-the-moment requests. They can stop you from defaulting to that regretful “yes.” ...

“Personal policies work because they essentially remove rejection from the equation.” You’re not saying “no” to the person but simply upholding your policy.

In addition, says William Ury, co-founder of the Harvard Negotiation Project, “executing on [policies] consistently can signal a sense of integrity, predictability and trustworthiness, which is key to building any strong personal or professional relationship.” ...

In another study, published in the International Journal of Research in Marketing, the same researchers found that people who said “I don’t” in role-playing and scenario-based exercises were more persuasive than those who said “I can’t.” So the next time an eager hostess tries to break your diet by offering “just a little piece,” kindly tell her, “No thank you, I don’t eat cake,” says Prof. Patrick. Saying “I don’t” connotes a higher degree of conviction and makes it harder for someone to push back.
--Jennifer Breheny Wallace, WSJ, on the power of rules instead of discretion

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Bad cafeteria food is offensive cultural appropriation

Students at an ultra-liberal Ohio college are in an uproar over the fried chicken, sushi and Vietnamese sandwiches served in the school cafeterias, complaining the dishes are “insensitive” and “culturally inappropriate.”

Gastronomically correct students at Oberlin College — alma mater of Lena Dunham — are filling the school newspaper with complaints and demanding meetings with campus dining officials and even the college president.

General Tso’s chicken was made with steamed chicken instead of fried — which is not authentically Chinese, and simply “weird,” one student bellyached in the Oberlin Review.

Others were up in arms over banh mi Vietnamese sandwiches served with coleslaw instead of pickled vegetables, and on ciabatta bread, rather than the traditional French baguette.

“It was ridiculous,” gripes Diep Nguyen, a freshman who is a Vietnam native.

Worse, the sushi rice was undercooked in a way that was, according to one student, “disrespectful” of her culture. Tomoyo Joshi, a junior from Japan, was highly offended by this flagrant violation of her rice. “If people not from that heritage take food, modify it and serve it as ‘authentic,’ it is appropriative,” she said.

Oberlin’s black student union joined in the fray this month by staging a protest outside Afrikan Heritage House, an on-campus dorm.

The cafeteria there wasn’t serving enough vegan and vegetarian options and had failed to make fried chicken a permanent feature on the Sunday night menu, the school newspaper reported.

Those students started a petition that also recommends the reduction of cream used in dishes, because “black American food doesn’t have much cream in it,” according to the Review.

The Nevada-based Universal Society of Hinduism joined the food fight last week after students discovered that the traditional Indian dish, tandoori, contained beef.

“Consuming beef was considered sacrilegious among Hindus,” blasted society president Rajan Zed, the Chronical-Telegram reported.

Campus dietitian Michele Gross told the Review this week the first meeting between college officials and dyspeptic students went well, and changes are being implemented to address all concerns.
--Melkorka Licea and Laura Italiano, New York Post, on one application of political correctness I could get behind

Friday, December 18, 2015

Streaming TV series are a new genre of art

...streaming shows — by which here I mean the original series that Netflix, Amazon and their ilk release all at once, in full seasons — are more than simply TV series as we’ve known them. They’re becoming a distinct genre all their own, whose conventions and aesthetics we’re just starting to figure out.

In TV, narrative has always been an outgrowth of the delivery mechanism. Why are there cliffhangers? So you’ll tune in next week. Why are shows a half-hour or an hour long? Because real-time viewing required predictable schedules. Why do episodes have a multiple-act structure? To leave room for the commercials.

HBO series like “Deadwood” — which jettisoned the ad breaks and content restrictions of network TV — have been compared to Dickens’s serial novels. Watching a streaming series is even more like reading a book — you receive it as a seamless whole, you set your own schedule — but it’s also like video gaming. Binge-watching is immersive. It’s user-directed. It creates a dynamic that I call “The Suck”: that narcotic, tidal feeling of getting drawn into a show and letting it wash over you for hours. ...

When you watch a series weekly, the time you spend not watching — mulling, anticipating, just getting older — is a part of the show. “Breaking Bad,” for instance, is the story of a man’s descent, or rise, from ordinary life to murderous criminality. In narrative time, the story takes about two years. Watched live on AMC, it aired for more than five years. Binged — as many late-joining fans saw it — it took maybe a week or three.

The live viewer saw Walter White’s change distended, in slow-motion; little by little, he broke badder and badder, in a way that emphasized the gradual slope of moral compromise. The binger saw him change in time-lapse, in a way that suggested that the tendency to arrogance and evil was in him all along. Neither perception is wrong. In fact, both themes are thoroughly built into the show. But how you watch, in some way, affects the story you see. ...

This approach has advantages. With a few hours to seal the deal, you don’t need to load up your first episode with gimmicks, and you can avoid the tedious network practice of “repeating the pilot”: telling repetitive stories in the early episodes to accommodate latecomers. You can pack a series with story and incident and trust viewers not to forget details...
--James Poniewozik, NYT, on the medium and the message

Monday, December 7, 2015

The liberal case for allowing suspected terrorists to buy guns

Since the atrocities in Paris, many Senate Republicans had been arguing that the threat of terrorism was so severe, the U.S. could not afford to take in Syrian refugees. And yet, on Thursday, these same lawmakers voted down a bill that would have prohibited anyone on the federal government's terror watch list from purchasing firearms in the United States. ...

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton, and the New York Times editorial board all railed against the GOP’s opposition to the measure. But before self-identified progressives join that chorus, they should consider this: A bill that bars suspected terrorists from buying guns is a bill that gives the White House the unilateral authority to rescind the constitutional rights of American citizens.

The terror watch list was one of the many Orwellian pre-crime initiatives adopted in the wake of 9/11. Last year, the Intercept published a 2013 document outlining the Obama administration’s criteria for labeling an individual a suspected terrorist. Those official guidelines stipulated that neither “concrete facts” nor “irrefutable evidence” were required to make that designation. That same evidentiary standard is applied to the smaller subset of individuals assigned to the No Fly List.

Some liberals may feel that the threat of terrorism justifies this dramatic exercise of state power. But it’s worth remembering that we live in a country that holds elections every four years and that, for the moment, Donald Trump has a non-zero chance of becoming our next president. The Obama administration considers the Black Lives Matter movement enough of a national-security threat to put its protesters under the surveillance of Homeland Security. Is it inconceivable that an administration less sympathetic to the movement’s goals might use its counterterrorism authority to inhibit the physical movement of its leading activists? Or that a candidate who has suggested establishing a database of all American Muslims might use the terror watch list in an oppressive manner?

Perhaps a liberal can oppose the lax criteria of the terror watch list and still wish to see it used as a tool for restricting the sale of guns. ...

But the problem with this reasoning is that, however unfortunately, gun ownership is currently construed as a constitutionally protected right. Thus, granting the executive branch the authority to unilaterally deny American citizens access to firearms would actually undermine our nation’s civil liberties more than the No Fly List ever could.

If the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of such an authority, it would create a precedent for the executive branch to rescind other protected rights in the name of preventing terrorism.

If that threat seems small and theoretical compared to the peril of our country’s daily gun violence, the same can be said about the threat posed by suspected terrorists purchasing firearms.

Yes, in the last ten years, 2,000 terror suspects legally purchased guns in the United States. But those 2,000 terror suspects account for roughly zero percent of American gun deaths over that period.
--Eric Levitz, New York, on the wrong way to prevent terrorist violence

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Is the U.S. really an outlier in mass shootings?

In his June 18, 2015, remarks from the White House, Obama said, "Now is the time for mourning and for healing. But let’s be clear: At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries. It doesn’t happen in other places with this kind of frequency. And it is in our power to do something about it." ...

For a look at the statistics, we checked with two researchers, Jaclyn Schildkraut of the State University of New York in Oswego and H. Jaymi Elsass of Texas State University. They have been collecting and analyzing mass-shooting incidents in 11 countries, covering the period from 2000 to 2014. ...

Schildkraut and Elsass shared the summary information from their database with PolitiFact. Here’s their table:

The chart does show that the United States has more mass shootings -- and more people cumulatively killed or injured -- than the other 10 nations combined, partly because it has a much bigger population than all but China.

Still, using this data, it’s easy to dispense with the first claim Obama made -- that "this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries." ... Clearly it does happen elsewhere, and not in trivial numbers. Seven of the countries saw double-digit numbers of people killed in mass shootings during that period.

By contrast, the second part of Obama’s claim -- that "it doesn’t happen in other places with this kind of frequency" -- isn’t entirely off-base.

We compared mass shooting incidents across countries [by calculating] the number of victims per capita -- that is, adjusted for the country’s total population size.

Calculating it this way shows the United States in the upper half of the list of 11 countries, ranking higher than Australia, Canada, China, England, France, Germany and Mexico.

Still, the U.S. doesn’t rank No. 1. At 0.15 mass shooting fatalities per 100,000 people, the U.S. had a lower rate than Norway (1.3 per 100,000), Finland (0.34 per 100,000) and Switzerland (1.7 per 100,000).

We’ll note that all of these countries had one or two particularly big attacks and have relatively small populations, which have pushed up their per-capita rates. ...

Elsass warned PolitiFact of a few caveats about the data. While they believe their database "to be among the most exhaustive compilations available," Elsass noted that it may not include every instance of mass shootings. It also doesn’t include every example of mass killings -- just those committed by firearms, even though mass stabbings are not uncommon in such places as China. Finally, their database doesn’t include acts generally considered to be terrorism, such as the attack in Paris on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

"If these were included, we are likely to see something much different statistically as there have been a number of very high-profile terrorist attacks in Europe, some including the use of firearms, that are excluded from the current analysis," she said. But in all likelihood, this would only make the case against Obama’s claim stronger.
--Kelly Herring and Louis Jacobson, PolitiFact, on mass shootings everywhere

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Performance anxiety at the urinal

Not long after the invention of the idea of personal space in 1959 came a classic ’70s study gamely titled “Personal Space Invasions in the Lavatory.” In it, researchers spied upon urinals to see how long it took for men to begin emptying their bladders.

It takes, we learned, almost twice as long when there is a man at a urinal next to you, and about half as long as when someone is one urinal away, compared to going it alone.

Closeness breeds anxiety; penis-related closeness can be overwhelming.
--Choire Sicha, NYT, on unrelaxing things