Archive for the ‘Stuck in a Poor Equilibrium’ Category

The Drawing Board: Health Insurance

If there’s one thing people love to talk about, it’s health insurance. Go to any coffee shop in America and you’re bound to find at least one person who has health insurance. But what the insurance companies don’t want you to know is that, in all likelihood, many more than one person there has health insurance. And while it’s true that people don’t really like talking about health insurance, you can bet that someone you know has it, and has it bad.

If you’re perfectly healthy like me, you obviously don’t want health insurance because what’s the point? Who wears a raincoat when the forecast says clear skies, other than actors like in The Perfect Storm? No one. Plus for most people, umbrellas would be way more useful—but not in that storm they wouldn’t! What a movie. But you know what? Everyone died at the end of that movie, so are we really supposed to believe that it’s a true story? But I’m not here to take The Perfect Storm to the drawing board, or even spoilers for that matter—sorry about that—because the truth is that, for most of us, health insurance poses a far greater danger than some type of perfect storm. Even the so-called perfect storm isn’t that dangerous—just stay inland. Same with Jaws. If you stay on land, the worse that can happen is Twister, but I’m not really scared because that movie was lame.

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The Drawing Board: Astrology

The idea that someone can tell you something about yourself or somehow predict your future just by looking at the movements of the stars is ridiculous. But the idea that I could do that is an interesting one, and it’s an idea I happened to have several weeks ago after I saw a full moon and then correctly predicted the attacks of September 11th. If that’s not enough to convince you, find your horoscope below (listed in the traditional order) and see for yourself if it comes true…

Aries (Mar 21-Apr 19):
You are a person who thinks of others. Not always, just sometimes. Nobody can think about other people all the time, so in a way we’re not so different, you and I. In your job, if you have one, there will be some type of transaction in the near future.

Taurus (Apr 20-May 20):
You often stand out among others as a person whose sign is Taurus. You eat food on a fairly regular basis, but often in different locations, as you tend to move about during the day. Beware of holidays—you never know what could happen. Yes, that’s true all the time, I’m just saying don’t forget about holidays. Continue reading

Free Pass

Just put him on...

Alas, the Yankees have lost the ALCS. There are many things you can blame for this sad reality, most notably the fact that the Rangers pitched and hit better than the Yankees throughout the series. But one thing that certainly didn’t help matters was the absurd number of intentional walks issued at the behest of Joe Girardi.

Two of the series’ key turning points were centered on intentional walks. First, in Game 4, with A.J. Burnett pitching as well as anyone could have expected and the Yankees leading 3-2, Vlad Guerrero led off the sixth with a single. Nelson Cruz replaced him at first on a fielder’s choice, and then, in a smart baserunning play, went to second on a deep fly ball to center. This move was so smart because it left Girardi with something that, apparently, managers do not know what to do with: a base open.

You hear things like this all the time in baseball: “Well, you have a base open here, so you can pitch around him,” or “You may as well walk him with a base open.” Here is a quick note for managers: YOU WANT YOUR BASES TO BE OPEN. That is a good thing. It means you have fewer runners on base and, thus, fewer runners at risk of scoring. And yet having a runner a second base and not first for some reason makes managers think about this differently, as if there were no substantive difference between having two runners on and having only one.

Because I’m sure that, had Cruz not taken second, Girardi would not have done what he did,* which is intentionally walk David Murphy.** Continue reading

On To-Do Lists

Recently, Slate’s John Dickerson solicited readers’ advice in how to most effectively and efficiently follow a to-do list. I did not send in my own counsel regarding to-do lists, reproduced below.

1. Every night, write down everything that you can conceivably accomplish the next day in a large, ringed notebook kept on your nightstand. Included on this list should be basic human activities, such as “Wake Up” and “Shower,” and simple tasks, like “Tomorrow’s To-Do List.” In-between, be ambitious. The last thing you want is to finish your to-do list early, so don’t be afraid to include both “Finish Dostoevsky novel” AND “War and Peace, Volumes I-II.”

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The Thank You Note

I recently had a party in my honor. Such parties are fun.

But the aftermath of those parties is frequently not. And as much of a drag as cleaning up can be, nothing is as draining as the Thank You Note.

Whoever came up with the Thank You Note was likely a well-meaning guy (or girl). He was probably genuinely grateful for whatever he received, and was able to articulate that gratitude without coming off as trite or clichéd or disingenuous. But even when I am actually thankful, I still find the Thank You Notes I write reeking of insincerity—the verbal equivalent of a forced, patronizing smile.

The first Thank You Note I wrote seemed completely genuine when I wrote it. But when I read it afterward, it rang hollow:

“Thank you so much for your generous gift and for coming to my party. It was great to see you again!”

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Give the Tutorial System a Chance

The Lecture and Its Drawbacks:
The lecture is a systemic feature of the American university system. Let me be clear: I have a fairly broad definition of the lecture. It could consist of anywhere from 15 to over 1,000 students. The primary feature of the lecture is that the professor controls all of the talking, and each individual student only participates when called upon or when he needs to clarify points made in the lecture. Sure, there are seminars and independent studies available, but the basis of the American university system is the lecture.

The lecture has two obvious advantages. First, it’s efficient: A single professor can teach many students at once. Second, it reinforces what you learn: Some students are not as good at learning information from textbooks, so having them learn a solid chunk of the material from a live lecturer may be beneficial.
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How to Solve Traffic*

*This isn’t entirely genuine; it’s more of a “How to Slightly Improve Traffic.”

“The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind.”

Perhaps no fictional character has lost more credibility in the past calendar year than Gordon Gekko, played so well by Michael Douglas in Wall Street. But I’m not here to talk about the exposure of greed in fiscal terms; rather, I’m here to detail greed’s insidious impact on something another Douglas film is named after: Traffic.

Traffic may be the most singularly hated affliction in civilization. Contemplate it. Unlike murder, no one commits traffic. Unlike AIDS, no one knowingly gives someone traffic. Unlike war, no one starts traffic on faulty reasoning or to build community.

It is entirely possible—if not probable—that there has not been a single individual throughout human history who has been “pro-traffic.” And yet we’re all guilty of perpetuating traffic. For traffic is not the inevitable, unsolvable, irremediable collateral of living in an automobile age. Sure, there are causes of traffic that are beyond our control: construction, accidents, overpopulation. But once that traffic starts, and maybe a lane is closed or a bridge is coming up and the road’s width is narrowing, traffic is made much worse by the foundational sin of humanity: greed.

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Watching Alone?

One of the most common social outings is going to the movies. Ironically, the process of going to see a movie is inherently antisocial. Think about it: You go into a dark theater where talking of any form is discouraged for two hours and are (hopefully) mesmerized by the film on the big screen. During the movie, you will have virtually no social interactions with the friends that accompany you (I exclude affectionate teen couples from this generalization) besides the occasional shared laugh. In fact, an argument can be made that having friends present detracts from the diversionary experience of the movie by reminding you of reality. Ever go with a friend to a movie who laughs at absolutely everything? Or talks excessively during the movie? This actually detracts from your movie watching experience by preventing complete immersion in the film.

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Waiting On Line

Very often, norms and customs arise for good reason.  They tend to provide an efficient solution to a problem. Waiting on line (as we New Yorkers say…an interesting topic in its own right) provides order in an otherwise chaotic situation. But there are some instances where customs are downright inefficient and we get stuck in a less than optimal equilibrium.

While queuing up may be efficient, waiting on separate lines for separate registers (or separate anything, for that matter) is definitely not.  A slow cashier (THINK: Target Lady) or another customer with a larger number of items may hold up customers.  It is clearly better for customers—overall—to have one line that feeds into every register so all customers are treated as equally as possible and not slowed down by a particularly sluggish line.  This is definitely the exception rather than the rule in the US.
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You say it’s your birthday…?

When you were a child, do you remember the sense of exhilaration you used to feel the morning of your birthday? I was always extremely confused when my older relatives would express a lack of enthusiasm when their birthdays came around: “How could you not be thrilled??? It’s your birthday, Grandma!!!”

As people get older, their birthdays become less exciting. I think there are two main reasons for this: 1. There is a sense of wondrous pleasure that is much easier to induce in children than in adults (or as co-blogger John S. calls it “pure joy”). A birthday—a celebration of you—sparks this wondrous pleasure. This is not as easy to spark when we get older. 2. At a certain point, people simply do not enjoy getting older, especially women. Sure, at 9, it’s pretty cool to turn 10 (although, I didn’t quite get the fuss over double-digits at the time). However, most people do not have positive feelings toward age increases after 21, but the exact age at which this occurs depends on the individual and her circumstances. Regardless, youth is something that is cherished and each yearly increase in age reminds us that our youth is dissipating, or has dissipated entirely.
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