Tuesday, September 30, 2008


I recently received a group email invitation from a professor that he sent to a discussion list, announcing his plans to publish an edited volume in an area of psychology in which I work.  The email (sent to several hundred people) stated "Your area of research will fit well in this edited volume." Of course, despite the fact that this flattery was entirely anonymous, I took the bait and explored the invitation more fully.  It turned out that, if my chapter were accepted for this book, it would be published by this professor's small university press in his small European country.  That means that it would probably not appear on anyone's radar nor in any major library.  What's more, I discovered that this professor (who apparently works in my area, but was previously unknown to me) engages in a type of self-promotion that I found rather curious.  For example, going to his web page, a pop-up window announced that he received the 2007 Professor of the Year Award from "Cambridge, UK."  That sounds prestigious until you learn that this award comes from one of those Who's Who-type ego-scams, which begins with an announcement that "You have been selected for a prestigious award," but which requires $475 to pay for the award to be sent to you, and another $500 to attend the awards ceremony.  How foolish I was to believe that any award that I received should actually involve me receiving something at no cost!  In addition, my would-be editor also has his own Wikipedia entry that touts his many contributions to my field.  Again, I never knew he even existed before he sent that email, so I am impressed by his rather bold pronouncements about his contributions to psychology.  

Perhaps this professor's actions should serve as a model of how I could raise my own visibility.  I could start by sending $500 to Cambridge, UK to get one of those prestigious awards and then writing a glowing Wikipedia entry about myself that mentions my receiving the Cambridge award.  Maybe I could host a conference in my name ("The Eric Vanman Symposium on All Things Important") or start a charitable organisation named for my son.  Maybe I could even commission The Veronicas to write a song about me.  There are so many possibilities...

Monday, September 29, 2008

An Old Dollar Bill

Several years ago I regularly registered U.S. dollar bills at the Where's George? website. The idea was (is) that I would stamp the bill with special instructions about the website, where the next owner could enter the serial number of the bill and thereby update its whereabouts. I did this for thousands of bills, but then stopped doing it in 2004 or so.  At one time I was one of the top Where's George users, and  I even attended a 'meeting' of Atlanta-area Where's George? users (yes, I am that exciting!). It turns out that most paper bills in the U.S. are removed from circulation after just a few years, so the chances of a bill still being out there after 3-4 years is quite small.

Well, today I received an email from Where's George? notifying me that one of my old bills was recently entered. Here's the link to the actual record, but I've also posted a screen shot of the information below. If you look at the bottom entry, you'll see that I entered this bill in Atlanta back in 2000, but the bill is still out there eight years later. It's been to Aruba and Puerto Rico according to the notes. And now it's stuck in New Jersey, where's it been sitting for three years.
Since 1984 Australia has used $1 and $2 gold coins instead of paper bills, so I won't be tracking money here. There are $5, $10, $20, $50, and $100 bills. Each is a different colour, which means there is little confusion when I go digging for money in my wallet. Still, I wonder what the chances are that one of my Aussie dollars will end up in Mendham, NJ some day.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Straight Lines

I have only recently realised the greatness of Silverchair, an Australian band. Here's a video clip and the lyrics of their 2007 hit to help you start off the weekend right. I don't quite understand the full meaning of the song, but I'll get back to you on that...

Breathing from a hole in my lung
I had no one
But faces in front of me
Racing through the void in my head
To find traces of a good luck academy

Sparks ignite and trade them for thought
About no one
And nothing in particular
Washed the sickened socket and drove
Resent nothing
There's good will inside of me

Wake me up low with a fever
Walking in a straight line
Set me on fire in the evening
Everything will be fine
Waking up strong in the morning
Walking in a straight line
Lately I'm a desperate believer
But walking in a straight line

Something I will never forget
I felt desperate
And stuck to the marrow
Invisible to everyone else
I'm a sex change
And a damsel with no heroine

Wake me up low with a fever
Walking in a straight line
Set me on fire in the evening
Everything will be fine
Waking up strong in the morning
Walking in a straight line
Lately I'm a desperate believer
But walking in a straight line

I don't need no time to say
There's no changing yesterday
If we keep talking and
I keep walking in straight lines

Wake me up low with a fever
Walking in a straight line
Set me on fire in the evening
Everything will be fine
Waking up strong in the morning
Walking in a straight line
Lately I'm a desperate believer
But walking in a straight line

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Global Changes

V. and I attended special public lectures last night delivered by two of the University of Queensland's most eminent professors, Paul Burn from the School of Molecular and Microbial Sciences, and John Quiggin from the School of Economics and Political Science.  They both conduct research on issues related to climate change.  Burn is developing cheap plastic solar panels and light displays, and one of his messages was that we need to set aside some of our non-renewable energy sources (e.g., oil) now to develop renewable energy ones.  Quiggin is focused on the impact of global warning on the Murray-Darling Basin, Australia's most significant agricultural area, which is quickly drying up.  One of his messages was that, although there's a lot of uncertainty about the future of the basin, it's no excuse for inaction now.

Since arriving in this country I have been repeatedly confronted with Australians' concerns about global warming.  Early last year the Howard government passed legislation to ban incandescent lightbulbs, which Quiggin referred to in his talk as a stupid purchase for a consumer to make, as their efficiency is woefully smaller than nearly all the alternatives.  Thank goodness, he implied, that the government decided to take away this decision from the consumer.  A great majority of grocery shoppers bring their own 'green' reusable bags to the stores here, rather than using plastic bags, and there's still a lot of discussion about whether plastic bags should just be banned outright.  At first V. and I were skeptical about reusable bags because we liked to use the plastic ones for nappies (diapers), but we have now changed our ways.  Recycling is much more extensive in Australia as well.   In Atlanta we sorted just our cans, bottles, and newspapers from the rest of the garbage, although most of our neighbors didn't even do that.  Here one can also recycle cardboard, jars, junk mail, and packaging, which really starts to add up.  As a final example, there are widespread public campaigns here to get people to reduce their energy and water consumption that I rarely, if ever, saw in the United States.

It might seem 'cute' that such a small country with a relatively tiny footprint on the world's greenhouse gas emissions is much more obsessed with global warming than the U.S., which is a much larger contributor by far.  My guess is that the typical Australian would in fact be shocked if they spent a week in an American home and saw how comparatively little concern there is for the environment there.  Not surprising, Australians are highly concerned about the American elections.  There are several reasons they should be, including the impact of the current financial crisis on their own markets, but Aussies are also watching what the next administration is going to do about developing renewable energy and reducing greenhouse gases.  A few sensible changes in America's energy policy, for example, would have a far greater impact on the future than if Queensland decides to ban plastic bags at the grocery store.

I believe that Australians are 'ahead' of the game on all this because they live in a place that is terribly susceptible to changes in the environment.  I think this entry from Wikipedia says it best:
By far the largest part of Australia is desert or semi-arid lands commonly known as the outback. Australia is the flattest continent, with the oldest and least fertile soils, and is the driest inhabited continent. Only the southeast and southwest corners of the continent have a temperate climate. Most of the population lives along the temperate southeastern coastline. The landscapes of the northern part of the country, with a tropical climate, consist of rainforest, woodland, grassland, mangrove swamps, and desert. The climate is significantly influenced by ocean currents, including the El Niño southern oscillation, which is correlated with periodic drought, and the seasonal tropical low pressure system that produces cyclones in northern Australia.[29] In June 2008 it became known that an expert panel had warned of long term, maybe irreversible, severe ecological damage for the whole Murray-Darling basin if it does not receive sufficient water by October.[30] Water restrictions are currently in place in many regions and cities of Australia in response to chronic shortages resulting from drought.[31] The Australian of the Year 2007, environmentalist Tim Flannery, predicted that unless it made drastic changes, Perth in Western Australia could become the world’s first ghost metropolis, an abandoned city with no more water to sustain its population.[32]
Of course, global warming is going to adversely affect everyone, but American politicians have been slow to realise this.  Here's hoping that they don't become too distracted by the screams of Wall Street so that they can begin to make a real difference sooner rather than later.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Watch Out for the Pergola

The weather news on www.weatherzone.com.au is so much more entertaining than my old standby back in the U.S., weather.com.  I have made other references to this web site before, but I found a story today that forced me to do a little research to understand its full meaning. The story itself was about a severe thunderstorm that hit Alice Springs yesterday.  Alice Springs is a small town nearly in the dead centre of Australia, hundreds of miles from nowhere.  We went there on our honeymoon in 2003, and loved it.   It's hot and dry for most of the year, although I noticed that it can be much colder there at night than in Brisbane during the winter.  Anyway, this freak thunderstorm yesterday caused some damage and widespread power outages in Alice Springs.  Although all of the "Todd river causeways are open," there was this warning:
Motorists are being asked to avoid Larapinta Drive between the Stuart Highway and Millner Road, where a pergola has blown onto the westbound lane.
Now, I'm growing used to the strangeness of the animals and plants here, so I assumed that a pergola was yet another strange living thing that I knew nothing about.  Those more cultured readers out there, however, are probably laughing at me now because you know that a pergola is just a structure commonly found in gardens.  I guess it must have caused quite a traffic jam there in Alice.

And now I know.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

What Lies Beneath

We took a quick trip west to Rocks Riverside Park (in Seventeen Mile Rocks) late this afternoon, just before a thunderstorm rolled through at sunset. This is the largest and newest city park in Brisbane. Because it is set on the former site of the Queensland Cement quarry, it's full of unusual attractions. Will finds the various quarry structures fascinating, including this one that V. is telling him about. The old train tracks, massive drills, and rusty gears make the park feel a bit like an industrial ghost town of some long ago alien civilization. It is one of my favourites.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Common Thread

When I was in junior high I owned an anthology of short stories in speculative fiction titled "Possibilities," which I just loved.  It included weird, twisted tales like those that appeared on "The Twilight Zone" and "Night Gallery."  One of my favourites was called "Button, Button." It's about a couple who find a box at their doorstep.  Inside is a mounted push button and a note explaining that the couple will receive $50,000 if they press the button.  The catch is that if they press it, someone in the world will die.  The rest of the story is about the couple's decision.  I hadn't thought about this for many years until I read that a new film, "The Box," starring Cameron Diaz, will be released next year based on this very story.  That led me to finding out the name of the author of "Button, Button," which turned out to be Richard Matheson (the guy in the picture above).  And that led me to reading more about his other contributions.  Oh my!  It turns out that many of my favourite stories, TV shows, and movies from the '70s and early '80s were written by Matheson, but I had no idea that he was the common thread among all these works.  Among his many accomplishments:
  • he was one of the original writers for "Twilight Zone" and he wrote two episodes of "Night Gallery"
  • he wrote the story and screenplay for "Duel," Steven Spielberg's first major work, which featured motorist Dennis Weaver being terrorised by an unknown trucker for the entire movie
  • he wrote the novel and screenplay for "Somewhere in Time," starring Christopher Reeve (definitely a sentimental favourite of mine)
  • he wrote one of the first teleplays that led to the eerie TV show "The Night Stalker," starring Darren McGavin, which was sort of the "X-files" of the early '70s
  • he wrote the episode for the original "Star Trek" that introduced Spock's "Vulcan grip"
  • he wrote "I am Legend," which has been filmed in various forms over the years
Here's a fuller summary of his life and work (he's now 82).  It's amazing that all of this stuff I loved during my adolescence were all products of the same mind.  Now I want to reread "Button, Button" and some of Matheson's other works, but I'll probably have to wait until I go back to the States in November to find his books, as I haven't been able to locate more than one of two of them here.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Small Doses of Hypocrisy Can Always Do You Good

I enjoyed this clip from "The Daily Show" (thanks for sending it, Matthew!):

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Sometimes I Just Disappear

One of the more embarrassing aspects of being a researcher is that many of us are obsessed with reading the reference sections of new articles in our field of interest to see whether we are cited.  In my case, possibly because of a drop in my productivity a few years ago, I am quite used to not finding my name listed in articles in my field. I can live with that, and I am now attempting to rectify this omission with greater productivity. However, every once in a while I come across a review article or a particular passage that is directly related to my published work but I am still not cited.  In the past week this has been a frequent experience while I was preparing a lecture on the social neuroscience of prejudice and stereotyping.  Amazingly, researchers I know well who have attended my talks at various conferences or were even on the same conference panel as me, simply don't mention anything that I have ever done in the past 10 years in their articles.  It leaves me feeling a bit sad, and it reminds me of the way that Kip Williams describes what it's like when someone ostracises you.  I'm paraphrasing here, but he said that being shunned by others "is similar to what would happen if you were dead. You experience life as if you didn't exist."  When people I respect don't find any of my work relevant to theirs (although I find what they do highly relevant to mine!), it feels like I never existed.  If I don't exist, then it begs the question: What have I been doing these past fifteen years when I was conducting and writing up all this research?  In an occupation that has few rewards, recognition by one's peers becomes that much more important.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Here Comes the Judge

In the social neuroscience course that I am currently teaching, students put on a mock trial last week involving a defendant who supposedly had a brain injury that led him or her to commit a violent crime.  The course is broken into four tutorials ("discussion sections," in American parlance) with 25-30 students each, and I am teaching one of them, in addition to giving all the lectures.  Anyway, during the preceding week's tute, when the students were preparing their mock trial, I started asking them questions about the Australian/Queensland court system.  I was amazed that nearly everyone in the room had little or no knowledge about what actually happens in an Australian courtroom.  One student said, "we only know what happens in an American courtroom because of television."  When I asked, for example, if an Australian defendant has the right to choose whether he or she takes the witness stand (as they do in American courtrooms), my students had no idea.  When deciding on the order of events during the trial, we ended up relying on what they do in an American courtroom out of ignorance of what goes on in an Aussie one.  It was really quite astonishing to me that university students didn't know about their own local legal procedures and rights.  I have since confirmed some of those procedures and rights with my resident jury research expert, who informed me that some jury trials in Queensland will soon no longer require a unanimous verdict.  I am committed to learning more about all of this before I teach the course again.

In a small nation like Australia, it's perhaps not surprising that people can know more about some aspects of American society than their own, simply because of all the movies and television shows that come out of Hollywood.  I still find it unsettling that there are few Australian-produced dramas on television here.  Today's Australian-produced TV shows mainly consists of game/reality shows, sing-a-long and other talent contests, a handful of dramas, and perhaps one or two Aussie sitcoms.  The rest of the airtime is chock full of American sitcoms and crime dramas.  I still can't figure out how they manage to have their own television awards show here.  Thank goodness for the ABC and SBS.  Or, as an alternative, perhaps I should just pick up a good novel about an Australian barrister facing the perils of the High Court.  Do you have any suggestions?  Is there a sort of Aussie version of John Grisham out there, perhaps?

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Not So Unique

Thanks to my settings on Google Alerts, I am notified the moment my name newly appears on a web page.  I set this up a few weeks ago, and didn't receive any notices for days.  But then, last week, I was notified that my name had just appeared on Classmates.com.  That's not such a big surprise, as I get messages from that site all the time.  However, it turned out that the Eric Vanman newly appearing on the site was ANOTHER Eric Vanman, who is a high school student in Canada.  Yes, there is another "me" out there and he still has nearly his entire adult life ahead of him!  I've spent my life believing that I was the only person in the world with my name, but it turns out that it was an illusion.  Still, this other Eric Vanman must be a distant relative.  I will have to investigate.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Because I CAN Vote

Update: My favourite blogger, Audra, has corrected a huge mistake I made in the original posting of this entry.  It turns out the Oct. 6 is the deadline for registering overseas absentee ballots, and 180 days before the election is when one can begin to apply for the ballot!  I can vote after all!  If any other American ex-pats are interested, check out this site, the Overseas Vote Foundation, where you can get all the (correct) details.

Stupid me.  I waited too long to look into how to register for an absentee ballot to vote in the upcoming U.S. election.  It turns out that the deadline for the application for registration is 180 days (6 months!) before the election, which I clearly missed.  Why so much time is required to process these applications makes little sense to me.  To make amends, however, I will continue to use space in my blog to broadcast sensible information and opinion about the election, in hopes that some of my far-right relatives decide to read it someday.

Today I want to point you to a blog entry that V. forwarded to me from an email from our friend Donna.  It's written by Deepak Chopra, a man I know little about, but I sure do like his blog.  Here's part of what he wrote on Sept. 4 about Sarah Palin, titled "Obama and the Palin Effect:"
I recognize that psychological analysis of politics is usually not welcome by the public, but I believe such a perspective can be helpful here to understand Palin’s message. In her acceptance speech Gov. Palin sent a rousing call to those who want to celebrate their resistance to change and a higher vision.

Look at what she stands for:

–Small town values — a nostaligic return to simpler times disguises a denial of America’s global role, a return to petty, small-minded parochialism.

–Ignorance of world affairs — a repudiation of the need to repair America’s image abroad.

–Family values — a code for walling out anybody who makes a claim for social justice. Such strangers, being outside the family, don’t need to be heeded.

–Rigid stands on guns and abortion — a scornful repudiation that these issues can be negotiated with those who disagree.

–Patriotism — the usual fallback in a failed war.

–”Reform” — an italicized term, since in addition to cleaning out corruption and excessive spending, one also throws out anyone who doesn’t fit your ideology.

Palin reinforces the overall message of the reactionary right, which has been in play since 1980, that social justice is liberal-radical, that minorities and immigrants, being different from “us” pure American types, can be ignored, that progressivism takes too much effort and globalism is a foreign threat. The radical right marches under the banners of “I’m all right, Jack,” and “Why change? Everything’s OK as it is.” The irony, of course, is that Gov. Palin is a woman and a reactionary at the same time. She can add mom to apple pie on her resume, while blithely reversing forty years of feminist progress. The irony is superficial; there are millions of women who stand on the side of conservatism, however obviously they are voting against their own good. The Republicans have won multiple national elections by raising shadow issues based on fear, rejection, hostility to change, and narrow-mindedness.
I am trying to stay optimistic about the future, but I am afraid that John McCain's crafty choice for VP is going to lead us all down the wrong path.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Another September 11th

As I finished the day in my office at work, I listened to the tracks of "America: A Tribute to Heroes."  These songs were recorded during that mysteriously produced show that appeared on all of the major American TV networks ten days after the 9/11 attacks.  I am not normally a patriotic person, but those weeks in 2001 deeply affected me and watching the concert that night while visiting my brother in Illinois did a lot to reduce the internal chaos I was experiencing at the time.  The album itself starts off with Bruce Springsteen's chilling "My City of Ruin," the lyrics of which were hauntingly appropriate for the moment, although Springsteen had written it months before.  Other highlights include Billy Joel's "New York State of Mind" and U2's "Walk On." In both of those tracks you can clearly hear Joel's and Bono's voices crack with the emotion that tainted everything that night.  The album ends with Willie Nelson leading a bunch of all-stars through a somewhat sad rendition of "America the Beautiful."  Listening to these songs on the seventh anniversary of that horrible day has left me with an overwhelming sense of homesickness.  I do miss the U.S.A.-- from sea to shining sea.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The End

I learned from a colleague today that the world will disappear into a black hole in the next month or two. A giant particle accelerator was switched on today in Switzerland, but it's what will happen next that worries my co-worker.  By November the researchers will begin the actual collisions of their particles in the accelerator, and that's when a black hole might form "accidentally." Today's New York Times article tries to reassure us by pointing out that since the 1840s there have been similar predictions of scientific doomsdays that, of course, didn't live up to their hype.  I really don't think that being sucked into a black hole is such a bad way to go--you and everyone you know (including Sarah Palin and Charlie Sheen) would disappear in less than a second.  We wouldn't even know that we had ever existed, nor would anyone else. In fact, your perception that you are reading this blog might just be the remnants of a dream that is drifting around in the emptiness of the universe forever.  And, isn't the risk of our complete annihilation really worth it, if it means that we may finally get to learn whether the Higgs boson actually exists?

Monday, September 8, 2008

My Electric Feel

Thanks to a recent Saturday morning viewing of "r a g e", I came across "Electric Feel" by MGMT. The trippy video I saw is available here on YouTube, but for some reason Sony BMG has decided to disable embedding. The video posted below is an older version, possibly made by a fan, but the music is the same.  Listening to it makes me start jumping around the office like a bonobo.

I think I like this one because I was called "Eric the Electric Banana Peel" when I was kid...

Sunday, September 7, 2008

The Day of a Happy Father

I woke up today not remembering that it was Father's Day.  For the past two years I have been lucky enough to celebrate four Father's Days--I was in the U.S. last year and the U.K. this year for their June holidays, and then I got the bonus Australian holiday each time,celebrated on the first Sunday in September.  Anyway, after opening my presents from Will and his mum this morning, we loaded up the car and drove up to the Sunshine Coast for the day.  We had breakfast at a café in Mooloolaba, where Will had his usual "baby chino" and we all had waffles. We then drove further north towards Noosa, stopping a few kilometres short of there to go to Sunrise Beach.  There must have been no more than 20 people within a kilometre of us on the beach itself.  Will had a great time exhausting his parents by running around and threatening to drown himself in the surf.  We also had a chance to work on his sandcastle building skills.  Unfortunately, right now Will is more pleased with knocking down a pillar as soon as it's built rather than adding to it, so in the end there wasn't much to show for our efforts.  The weather was absolutely perfect, and V. and I sang along to '80s hits on the radio on the way home.  Once home I did a quick run to the grocery store while V. got Will ready for bed.  Our dinner was lamb burgers topped off with Greek-style yoghurt and accompanied by juicy corn on the cob.  Now, that's a meal that would have been a challenge to make (at an affordable price) back in the States. 

Yes, I had a perfectly happy Father's Day!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Time Zones

Phil Zimbardo was in Brisbane yesterday to give a talk to customers of his textbook publisher.  You have probably heard of him if you know anything about the Stanford Prison Experiment.  This was the 1971 study in which subjects were assigned to play the role of a prisoner or a guard in a mock prison in the basement of Stanford University.  All sorts of interesting things happened, which you can read about here, but the experiment led Zimbardo to study many related issues over the next 35 years.  Yesterday's talk was not about those issues nor did he promote his best seller, The Lucifer Effect (although he did sign my copy!).  Instead, his 75 minute presentation was about time--a topic that I have written about before in this blog.

Zimbardo has developed and validated a research questionnaire that measures five main dimensions of a person's time orientation.  He argues that most people are not aware of where they lie on these dimensions, but these 'time zones' strongly influence what we do at any given moment.  Here's a brief description of a high score in each zone:
  • past positive:  someone who frequently thinks about their past in a positive way; strong ties to family and friends; likes traditions; particularly resistant to new things
  • past negative: someone who frequently thinks about their past, but in a negative way; tends to think of themselves as a victim of abuse, neglect, bad circumstances; strongly associated with depression
  • present fatalistic: someone who thinks only about today, but largely from a "how am I going to survive today?"; believes there is little they can do to control their futures, so they tend to be reactive rather than proactive; more common in people with impoverished lives
  • present hedonistic: someone who lives in the moment, trying to maximise their pleasure and minimise pain; they tend not to carry watches, schedule appointments, and are frequently late; strongly associated with addiction; most likely to enjoy sex; little no or concern about the consequences of their actions
  • future: these are people who are most likely to think about the consequences before taking action; they tend to have highly scheduled, busy lives; tend to be most successful of the five time zones; experience more anxiety but less depression; more socially isolated; fewer sensual pleasures
It's an interesting framework to think about many personal and societal problems, and Zimbardo has about 20 years of research on all of this.  For example, he finds that Stanford students who score high on Future do better in all their classes, whereas Present Hedonists only do well if it's a class they like.  Minority students from impoverished backgrounds tend to be Present-oriented, which puts them at a disadvantage in school because they don't tend to think about the probabilities of different outcomes.  Societies with many people in Past-Positive (think of Sarah Palin and her friends at the Republican Convention!) tend to be slow to change, and will likely have more problems with increasing globalisation.  The closer one is to the equator, the more you find Present oriented people, probably because they don't have to worry about the change of seasons.

According to Zimbardo, it's best to have a mix of the time zones to offset the negatives of each.  The optimal profile is to be high in Past-Positive, mid-high in Future, and mid in Present-Hedonist.  That is, have rich positive connections to your past with a good dose (but not too high) of a future orientation and ample enjoyment of the moment.  Reaching such an optimal balance can be challenging, however, depending on where you live, what you're up against, and your life experiences.  Here's a link to his book, if you want more info.  He also spoke about some trends in American society, a country that is probably overloaded with Future people.  A USA Today poll in 1987 found that 59% of respondents had a family dinner each day, whereas today it's 20% that do.  More than 50% of today's respondents say they are busier this year than last year.  What did they tend to sacrifice to make up the time?  Friends, family, and fun.  What would they do if they had an extra day in the week?  Most said they would use it to catch up with work.  

I found this talk highly stimulating.  Interestingly, Zimbardo rarely refers to biological processes in his work (he's a strong environmentalist).  I'm thinking that social neuroscience could help flesh out some of the details.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Choices Speak Louder than Words

Whenever I call either of my parents back in the U.S., both of whom are supporting Barack Obama but live in different states, I am amazed by their stories of people they know who just "hate" Obama.  That is, they don't just disagree with his policies, they LOATHE the man.  By contrast, as much as I think Bush Jr. has screwed up so many things, I can't muster enough emotion to hate the guy.  Nevertheless, I have a relative who regularly forwards email racist rants about Obama that have just horrified me (most seem to originate with those same idiots behind the Kerry swift boat scam, but that doesn't seem to matter).  When I sent a reply countering many of the ridiculous untruths in her one of her emails, I received a terse "Thanks for your opinion, Eric," and I was immediately taken off her mailing list.  All this vitriol is another sign that America has become terrible polarized in the last decade, and it makes me worry about the future.  I suspect that the basis of these reactions has to do with race and the misperception that Obama is somehow tied to radical Muslims, but most of these Obama haters tend to deny their implicit racism, and they feel justified about hating Muslims anyway.  

And, to add to my worries, McCain has now made a terrible choice for a VP candidate that says much about his (a) mental state, (b) low regard for the presidency, (c) beliefs about affirmative action, and (d) lack of concern for the rest of the world.  Even the fairly conservative The Australian ran a column today titled "Reckless pick bad news for Australians."  Geoff Elliott writes: 
"What McCain has done in selecting Palin is an entirely political decision to win him the general election, which proves again that self-interest always triumphs in politics.

But in terms of foreign policy, in which Australia has most interest, this is a reckless move and potentially stressful to our alliance in the event that early in the next administration Palin were elevated to the presidency."
What gives me comfort, however, is reading the twice-weekly columns of one of the last sensible people in America, Maureen Dowd.  Her words are always laced with irony and wit, and today's column is no exception.  In "Vice in Go-Go Boots," Dowd suggests that the very people who staunchly oppose affirmative action will have no problems with the way that McCain has picked someone who is so utterly unqualified for one of the most important jobs in the world. Here's an except, but please read the entire column if you have the time:
The guilty pleasure I miss most when I’m out slogging on the campaign trail is the chance to sprawl on the chaise and watch a vacuously spunky and generically sassy chick flick.

So imagine my delight, my absolute astonishment, when the hokey chick flick came out on the trail, a Cinderella story so preposterous it’s hard to believe it’s not premiering on Lifetime. Instead of going home and watching “Miss Congeniality” with Sandra Bullock, I get to stay here and watch “Miss Congeniality” with Sarah Palin.

Sheer heaven.

It’s easy to see where this movie is going. It begins, of course, with a cute, cool unknown from Alaska who has never even been on “Meet the Press” triumphing over a cute, cool unknowable from Hawaii who has been on “Meet the Press” a lot.

Americans, suspicious that the Obamas have benefited from affirmative action without being properly grateful, and skeptical that Michelle really likes “The Brady Bunch” and “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” reject the 47-year-old black contender as too uppity and untested.

Instead, they embrace 72-year-old John McCain and 44-year-old Sarah Palin, whose average age is 58, a mere two years older than the average age of the Obama-Biden ticket. Enthusiastic Republicans don’t see the choice of Palin as affirmative action, despite her thin résumé and gaping absence of foreign policy knowledge, because they expect Republicans to put an underqualified “babe,” as Rush Limbaugh calls her, on the ticket. They have a tradition of nominating fun, bantamweight cheerleaders from the West, like the previous Miss Congeniality types Dan Quayle and W., and then letting them learn on the job. So they crash into the globe a few times while they’re learning to drive, what’s the big deal?

Obama may have been president of The Harvard Law Review, but Palin graduated from the University of Idaho with a minor in poli-sci and worked briefly as a TV sports reporter. And she was tougher on the basketball court than the ethereal Obama, earning the nickname “Sarah Barracuda.”

The legacy of Geraldine Ferraro was supposed to be that no one would ever go on a blind date with history again. But that crazy maverick and gambler McCain does it, and conservatives and evangelicals rally around him in admiration of his refreshingly cynical choice of Sarah, an evangelical Protestant and anti-abortion crusader who became a hero when she decided to have her baby, who has Down syndrome, and when she urged schools to debate creationism as well as that stuffy old evolution thing.