Over the past few weeks, I've had a lot of time to think about what it means to "say the right thing." This thought has been inspired by spending a lot of time preparing for job interviews, talking to my girlfriend, and so on.
There's a pretty high premium placed on saying the right thing these days. Knowing what to say can you get you a job, a girl, a hot meal, and more. Moreover, there's a certain amount of in-the-moment pressure to say what you know the other person wants to hear. Along with a lot of other people, I guiltily admit to loving instant-gratification. There's nothing like saying the right thing for getting a smile of approval, one of the ultimate forms of inst-grat.
There's a part of me that really hates self-presentation. I'm really bad at hyping myself - I don't want to tell other people that I'm smart, rich, capable, or ridiculously good in bed, even if it happens to be the truth (which it, unfortunately for my girlfriend, is not). Consequently, there's probably a part of me that really hates having to do things like this.
Really, I'd much rather have some sort of brain-scan that would show prospective employers where I actually stand. Not only would that relieve the pressure of having to go through interviews, it would also make me a lot less uneasy about whether I'm being hired for who I am, or for who I represented myself to be. Having sat behind the interviewer's desk, there's really only so much that you can pick up about a person in an hour. Sure, you can toss out a case question and see if they're smart. But it's hard to tell if they're lazy, the full extent of their skill set/experience, and whether or not you'll actually be able to work with them over an extended period of time.
As a guy that just got hired, I'm totally freaked out that they might be expecting a lot more from me than I can actually do. Anyway, I'm sure it'll be fine. But still. I think the whole interview process could be done better.
I just started reading The Lesser Evil, by Michael Ignatieff, in an ill-advised attempt to get back to my roots in philosophy. I can already tell that it's going to be significantly slower going than it should be. Moreover, I won't pick up half as much from this book as I would have about a year or two ago.
The feeling reminds me of sentiments expressed in an article in the Times. Having previously been able to quickly read and digest this sort of text, it's depressing to pick up a book which should really be a light read and feel as if it requires a bit more lifting than I would have expected. Moreover, whereas the article refers to highly trained athletes that no longer need to use their muscles, this is my mind we're talking about here. My mind since college. I was really hoping that I'd be getting sharper, not duller. Oh well.
The book, or the thirty pages of it that I've read, is a discussion of evil and politics. The book was written post 9/11, so the reason for its writing is fairly transparent. Ignatieff is trying to better understand the extent to which a government can abridge its citizens' civil liberties in the name of security, while still staying on solid politically moral ground. There's obviously a lot going on here, which I don't want to get into here.
His thesis (so far) is that when faced with such dilemmas, the government should adopt the policy that represents "the lesser evil," (hence the title of his book). The position seems pretty uncontroversial to me, if you can get beyond the fact that it's probably impossible to implement in any real sense. I think what's more interesting is the root of the idea, which basically assumes that evils can be weighed against each other.
This is something that people don't really like doing, although I think we all know that it has to happen at some point. The canonical case is whether or not you're allowed to torture a suspect if you think he may be the only person that knows the location of a megabomb that's set to go off in the middle of a crowded metropolis within the next hour. Most people give in to their more practical side and start saying, "Ok, maybe in that case." But there's also a strong inclination to say that as soon as you take that step, you're opening up a Pandora's box of violations, exceptions, human rights violations, and what not.
Qualifier: I haven't quite finished the relevant chapter yet. However, it looks like Ignatieff is saying that this is OK, so long as we continue to recognize that what we are doing is an evil. The fact that it is mitigated by the presence of a greater evil does not excuse it. But the realities of politics make it necessary.
That being the case, my impression is that it's all about measuring the greatness of an evil. I'm dying to find out how Ignatieff proposes that we do this. What makes something more evil than another? The number of people affected? The severity of the effect? Or will it be one of those "by their own lights," kind of deals?
My guess is that he'll post some helpful if not particularly concrete guidelines. Since this is where the most substantive theories will have to be, I'll reserve my judgement on his position until I find out where his lines are. However, preliminary paragraphs indicate that Ignatieff thinks that suspension of civil liberties in the name of combatting terror is not a bad thing, so long as the suspensions are "temporary." Given that the war has the potential to last almost indefinitely, much like the war on drugs, I'm very curious to see how this plays out. If civil liberties are "temporarily" suspended for eighty years, then I'd be inclined to say that something is wonky in his theory.
I settled on a job today. I chose to continue down the consulting path and see where that takes me.
While I was declining the other offer, it struck me how reticent I am to make large decisions like this. It's something akin to buyer's remorse, only, buyer's remorse is a bit sillier because you can always just return whatever it is that you bought (unless it's food, but those are relatively smaller purchases). A decision like this is a bit bigger. Much like the college that you go to, it's something that's going to define you and your path as time goes on. This means the magnitude of the mistake can be that much larger.
I don't think that I made a mistake though. Fundamentally, I like the place that I'm going and I like the work that I will be doing. If I find out that I've made a mistake, there are some reasonably good exit options. I think the biggest thing is that I like the people there, at least from the few I've met. For me, that's always been big.
Am I curious about what would have happened if I'd taken the other job? Absolutely. Will I look back on this day and wonder if I did the right thing? Sure. Will I come to regret this moment? I don't think so. And if I do, at least I'll learn something from it.
Pudge has a blog that I'm linking to right here. She's far more adept at this stuff than I am.
Here is another site that she pointed me to. Thomas tells me that it's old, but that's probably because he's a huge dork and has nothing better to do than surf web sites all day. Unlike some people I know. Anyways.
So, this isn't going to be an actual book review. While I appreciate high quality book reviews - and would love to contribute a couple to the world at large - I just don't have the time or patience to really think too deeply about what I'm reading these days.
I do have the time to put down my immediate impressions, which I think might be more valuable anyway. After all, this is more or less for my own sense of posterity. So here goes.
Natsuo Kirino - Out
Asa recommended this book to me, possibly because some of the content might be considered extreme or ultra-
The book began with something that was close to social commentary, describing the plight of working women in Japan. There was a strong sense of entrapment (hence the book's title, I suppose) - trapped in debt, in familial relationships, or in a passionless existence.
However, instead of delving into this more deeply, the author segued over into murder, dismemberment, rape and other craziness. Entertaining, sure. Deep and probing, not so much.
Michael Chabon - The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
I'm a little bit ashamed to say the following. This was a good book. The reason I'm ashamed is because I don't have much more to say on the matter. I'm sure that there's a lot to say -I could discuss how the book's theme of mystic escapism are a fantastic lens through which to view the otherwise highly depressing content matter that the book covers. I would probably also comment on how the book refuses to allow that lens to totally distort reality, which comes crashing back into view with some frequency. I'd probably comment that the author twists us into having the same thought about his work that his characters have about another work within the novel, which is so "meta" that I can't even properly describe it without using way too many words.
But all of these comments would turn into loose, rambling, incoherent statements about the book that I wouldn't be able to fully substantiate through proper literary analysis. They'd be something closer to my own highly subjective take on the book. So, I'll just say it was a good book and leave it at that.
Now that I've switched to the new blogger beta, I can't delete the post containing the pictures anymore. Everyone just ignore it for now.
In any case, I've successfully made my first non-text based modifications to this page. The sidebar should now be significantly larger and the useless Google search bar should now be replaced with a hideous Google Adsense button. I'm probably just going to get rid of the whole thing, come to think of it. The Technorati part will probably go away as well. It's not like this blog is cool enough to require all of Technorati's services.
In the meantime, I've been trying to choose a job. My indecisive nature is proving to be highly problematic, since I can't comfortably choose one job without thinking that I'm really missing out on the other. Deadline is on Monday. Wish me luck.
So, I just redid the template - i.e. stole a template from another website and then modified it to fit my needs. There's still some stuff that I want to do though.
First, I want to modify the sidebar a bit, basically make it wider so the books section (that I added myself) doesn't look so cramped.
Second, I want to create a flickr account (with a Shozu uplink from my phone, how cool is that!) and modify the flickr badge on the side.
Fourth, maybe add a blogroll.
Fifth, I need to get a readership for this sucker. For real.
I just ran across this blog - ephemeral-deliberations - and it's all about a guy at Haas that's currently going through an internship and doesn't get any sleep. Actually, there seems to be a couple recurring themes:
a) Not getting enough sleep
b) Count-down until his job is over
d) Laundry trouble, lack of socks/underwear (I feel that one)
e) Wishing he was outside, but also enjoying his job
I feel bad for the guy and everything but the thing that gets me is that he's constantly updating the world about how he's not sleeping! If you were at 44 hours of wakefulness, 4 shy of being awake for two full days, would you really care about posting to your blog?
I'm guessing that it's a way of venting - constantly telling people about how little sleep you're getting must be a major downer for your friends.
I'm also curious about whether San Francisco has wash and fold services, cause it sounds like that guy could use one.
Couple possible reasons:
a) I saw it in a theater. There might have been a laughtrack type of effect goading me on.
b) Maybe I like Will Ferrell. I thought Anchorman was ok, if dumb.
c) This movie didn't have Ben Stiller or Vince Vaughn in it. I find their characters always take a bit of getting used to.
A lot of people talk about the constant product placement in this movie. I'm pretty sure it's a joke. Shake and bake, biotch.
Anyway. It was a fine movie. I think Fratpack movies are actually kind of interesting as a social phenomenon. Anecdotally, it just seems as if a lot of people have had to watch them multiple times before they started liking them. The fact that they even got to that point is pretty interesting. It's not like people really watched the third Matrix movie multiple times just to see if there was some sort of hidden awesomeness to it. People that didn't like Superman probably aren't going to change their minds by seeing it a second time. But somehow, these movies continually get people to come back and revise their opinions.
My guess is that it has something to do with the brand of comedy. It treads a finicky line between absurd stupidity and subtlety. The first time you see Zoolander, you might think that whole segment with David Duchovny in the graveyard might strike you as being lame, cashing in on Duchovny's X-files cachet and improperly mixing it with a retarded comedy. But maybe the second time you see it, it might be funny. Or maybe the second time you see it, it's because your friends have repeatedly told you a million times how funny it is, and you're going into it predisposed towards thinking that it actually is funny and you just happened to have missed something when you saw it the first time. Who knows.
An article from today's Times pseudo-confirms my intuitions on a subject that I'm sure has graced the minds of most people that have recently been in college. Where do our drunken words/actions come from? Is it a manifestation of some sort of schizophrenic personality disorder that alcohol unleashes? Or is it actually a less inhibited version of the people that we already know?
The article, citing the opinion of two experts, claims that it is the latter. This makes sense to me. Throughout college, I ran into all sorts of people that did or said "crazy" things when they were drunk, then dismissed it the next day. The crazy behavior normally ran in a couple of directions, influenced slightly by being male/female. First, there were the people that would just sleep with anything. Second, there were the people that would start getting violent. Third, there were the people that would just be a**holes and say really unpleasant things. Oddly enough, I always found the last group to be the most objectionable.
Anyway, I always felt like being drunk or otherwise intoxicated wasn't really enough to change the type of person that you really are. You might just be a different version of yourself, but it seemed to me that the core should stay the same. This view came largely from my own limited perspective. But it seems like there's a pretty strong incentive to make a claim one way or the other, depending on who you are. If you're the type of person that does things that you regret the next day, then you obviously want to say, "I only slept with that person because I was messed up." If you're not that type of person, then you might want to go the opposite route and say that inebriation displays a more unfiltered view of the self, so that you can claim some sort of moral superiority over your more bashful peers.
While I subconsciously lean towards the latter in my own views, I think that the real answer is this: while alcohol may give a glimpse into what a person wants to keep covered up, the real measure of a person should be based on what they do. If someone thinks that what they're doing while being intoxicated is really, egregiously, criminally bad, they'll probably stop drinking. For example, if every time I took a hit of drug Alpha, I murdered one of my friends, I would probably stop (or go to jail). This is obviously an extreme case, but the idea is the same. It might be harder to make this decision if the outcome was less black and white. That being said, maybe it is the real me that comes out and starts murdering people. But if I can look at that side of myself and say, "That's not who I want to be," and stop, then that decision should be equally reflective of what's going on inside my head.
Pitchfork columnist Chris Dahlen just dropped an article on the lack of great pop-culture critics in modern society. While it eventually devolves into a meandering expository exercise, I think his first argument is interesting. Briefly put, he thinks that the lack of great critics can be attributed to the cultural switch from drugs to technology as the primary turning point in our daily lives. The switch is important as the two occupy very different places within the cultural landscape, with drugs being dark, dirty, mind-expanding, cool, etc. while technology has at best a neat-o, gee-whiz kind of quality.
Two-second thought: I think Dahlen may have a point - there's definitely something about the way that we write about technology that's a bit formulaic and that is substantially less visceral. The degree to which it can be considered "life-changing" is generally measured by the degree to which it increases a person's level of efficiency, whether it be at working or goofing off.
But I think that if I were to make my own uneducated guess, it would be that pop critics are on their way out not because their subject is now technology related, but because technology has completely reshaped the competitive landscape and the size and accessibility of the criticizable world. As of now, basically anyone in the world can be a critic with the advent of the Internet. Pitchfork itself is an example of a site that started from nothing, with no publishing "cred," that has managed to turn itself into the poster board for indie music. Moreover, it is surrounded by a community of bloggers, which are mainly reviewed musicians and former columnists, that can reasonably claim to have the same level of credibility as any of the people that actually write anything on PF. Given that blogging is now a free, readily available service, there are no barriers to entry keeping any would-be upstart writer from jumping in with his/her two cents. With so many people talking at theoretically equal volume, how could one person possibly come out with the biggest voice?
The same kind of description can be leveled at virtually every facet of pop culture - movies, television, celebrity gossip, video games. Each of these subjects can now be viewed with both macro- and microscopic intensity. I can look at the television industry as a whole, or I can read detailed descriptions of the blacklight picture that Locke saw on Lost in that one episode, accompanied by well-articulated if completely insane theories on what the picture might actually mean.
This information is also incredibly current. Whereas old-school critics might have had some sort of informational edge over the consumer, those days seem to be rapidly disappearing. There are enough critics constantly pushing out information as soon as they get it that there no longer seems to be a set of people that can comfortably claim to know more about their pop-culturish subject than any research-hungry consumer.
Lastly, the level at which I look at these issues is completely at my discretion. This creates a problem for traditionally trendsetting magazines like Rolling Stone, which historically have had a much easier time corraling unfragmented public opinion. As soon as everyone can go out on their own and figure out what is cool for themselves, then the number of tastes/opinions that Rolling Stone has to successfully address becomes infinitely larger/less manageable. At that point, Rolling Stone has two options: they can either:
a) Cater to the largest customer segments by covering that which is already popular
b) Try and strike out on their own and continue to be perceived as a trendsetter
The problem with a) is that it is essentially a concession of defeat. It turns the Rolling Stones of the world into trend-followers, rather than trend-setters. The problem with b) is that it's just ridiculously impossible, especially given the exponentially-growing numbers of competing voices.
So, it's not very surprising to me that there are no new great critics. Whereas critics could previously rely on inside information and the undivided attention of a public untainted by media-saturation, critics today no longer have any of those luxuries. While Rolling Stone and all of the other great taste-setters will still have a place in this world, I doubt it will ever be the way that it used to be.