Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The power of a single word could sway a shidduch

Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior by Ori Brafman and Rom Brafman (Hardcover - Jun 3, 2008) touches on a number of studies where planting a bias -- a label of a person fabricated for the sake of the psychological research -- determines how that subject will be assessed, whether for attractiveness, intelligence, liveliness, or amiability.

In one example, students were given a bio of a substitute before he entered their class. There were 2 versions of this bio; the only difference, though, was that one described him as "warm" and the other as "cold." After the class, students wrote up an assessment. All the ones who had been given the "warm" bio gave a positive review and all the ones with the "cold" bio gave a negative one -- two opposing views from students in the same class resulted from the bias that was planted. The authors mention the same type of dynamics could work for someone on a blind date. A certain remark might be taken as proof that the date is a very dry and dull individual or someone with a sense of humor, depending on what one has been told about the person in advance.

Think of the possible ramification for words spoken by people applied to for "information" about shidduchim. On the one hand, shadchanim may have actual cause to believe that describing a young woman as "pretty" may indeed make her so in the eyes of the bachur beholder. On the other hand, those who choose adjectives with possibly negative connotations (for example, "intellectual" is considered a negative label by some) could plant a bias that would make the person going out expect to not like the date and glimpse everything the date says or does through a prism of preset expectations.

There is another interesting point in the book about the clash between materialistic and altruistic motivations, which should be applied to the argument of solving the shidduch crisis by offering more more for people who make shidduchim for specific categories. I won't get into the whole thing because it actually goes through an explanations of different parts of the brain that get stimulated by pleasure or money and that get stimulated by doing something to help someone out and also provides an example of students paid pennies for correct answers on tests who performed worse than students who were not offered the money. But if there is any parallel between shadchanim and the people in Switzerland offered sums of money for their cooperation in a certain instance, then the monetary incentive will not work.

A post I just saw offered me a great illustrative example. Let's say someone tells me, "sell me your kidney; I'll give you $3000." Unless you are completely desperate for that sum, you are not likely to do it, I would guess. If the person then up the offer to $5000, you would probably be equally reluctant. Why would anyone want to give up organs for money? But, if the appeal was to save a life of someone, then you may consider it. If it is someone you know, you will likely consider it more seriously. If it is someone close to you, particularly someone like your own spouse or child, I would guess that you be very quick to do whatever is in your power to save the life of that person who is so dear to you. It would be an insult to have someone offer to pay money to provide the organ that would save the life that is as important to you as your own. That is a difference between the power of altruistic motivation and materialistic motivation. Oh, I'm sure there are people out there -- you know the type about which they say "he would sell his own grandmother for a nickel." -- who would be motivated to do just about anything for the right price.

Going Against the Sway in School

A really interesting and easy-to-read book my husband picked out is:
Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior by Ori Brafman and Rom Brafman (Hardcover - Jun 3, 2008)
BTW the authors grew up in Israel and draw on studies in Israel for a few of their illustrations of the principle of sway. Among their examples is giving what one must know is the wrong answer in an experimental research study that purports to check for visual acuity but really tests the psychological or social sway phenomenon. In this experiment, people are hired to give the answer on a multiple choice that is obviously wrong. The results are that the real subjects of the experiment in that circumstances in most cases give the same wrong answer. These are not subjective questions but things like which of these 3 lines (all very different lengths) match the other line. Most people will second-guess their own judgments and follow the crowd even in something as objectively obvious as this.

Now for my own surprising example. It was surprising to me because the daughter who reported it would admit that math is actually one of her weakest subjects and she is actually very concerned about what peers think. But this is what she reported: Last year her teacher threw out a math question and asked the girls to hold up the number of fingers that represent the answer. My daughter says that every single girl in the class except for her held up two fingers. The question was "Which number times itself equals itself?" Only my daughter, according to her account held up only one finger. (I observed that zero may work, as well, but it seems that one was what the teacher was looking for.) I would conjecture that others in the class were able to figure out that one works but saw two fingers held aloft by everyone else and so acted accordingly.

Well, the it is not really wholly surprising that they fell into that trap, much of school culture really pushes for group think. It is rather expected in the way things are set up. But the group sway can turn against the rule, and when enough students decide to openly oppose authority, "the thing to do" changes to following the rule of misrule.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Betsy is not Understood

A few years ago I checked the children's classic, Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher, out of the library for my girls to read. I read it myself and was struck by the educational component. One of the advantages Betsy gains by her country move is the education of a one-room schoolhouse. In the city, she was just given the books according to her grade level (she is 9 in the book) even though she is far advanced in English and somewhat behind in math. In the one-room schoolhouse, on the other hand, she is allowed to take the books that match her level. She is no longer forced into the mold of what is expected in fourth grade, but is free to do English above grade level and math below it without having to go through a process to label her learning disabled. It is, in other words, a Montessori approach. I didn't know that the author was familiar with that educational system. But according to the Amazon review: "Fisher is a wise, personable storyteller, steeped in the Montessori principles of learning for its own sake, the value of process, and the importance of 'indirect support' in child rearing."

I was just thinking of this again because we have just started a new school year. The term "avid reader" is an understatement with respect to my youngest. I explained to her teacher of this year that she reads 2 to 3 years above grade level and I really appreciated that teacher last year customized her assignments for her, so that she wouldn't just coast through the standard reading for her grade. But I don't think it is happening this year. The teacher sends home letters to parents urging them to encourage their children to read. They have a reading log that requires 10 minutes a day. Well, my daughter is more likely to read 100 minutes a day -- on a school day, mind you. In fact, I have to tear her away from books to get her to do her homework. She is way beyond the point of playing reading by pointing out signs and other reading opportunities in the wide world. But she is stuck in the standard mold of second grade with spelling tests on words like "mom" and "bike." If she is advanced beyond that, the school's attitude is that I should just be happy she is doing well and not struggling in that area.

When I brought up the question of skipping a grade last year, the principal demurred. The approach of schools today is not to focus on the strengths of a child but to look for her weakest point. She said that even if a child is completely able to handle the academics of the more advanced grade, she will still have a liability like being not as advanced in jump rope or ball.

Really, that argument is bogus. I did follow the school advice in retaining one child who was at the time behind in certain skills. Giving her that extra time did not result in marvelous jump rope skills or the like. Now she is the oldest in her class and far more mature than 99% of them. But that is not the advantage one might think it is.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Money Matters and Marriage

See Sephardi Lady's post and the article she links to here:
It is this very issue that underlies the Money Matters article paired with "Popping the Questions" in the latest issue of Kallah Magazine. To read it, see the previous post to link the pdf.

Fall issue of Kallah Magazine

It was printed and distributed in the 5 Towns, Queens, Brooklyn, Baltimore, and Teaneck. You can also see it online here: http://kallahmagazine.com/fall2008.pdf

Peyos perms

That's what a sign above a barber shop in Borough Park said. I guess it eliminates the hassle of daily curlers.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Carnival of Overdue Thanks

hosted by Juggling Frogs. Check it out at http://blog.jugglingfrogs.com/2008/08/carnival-of-overdue-thanks-first.html

Unqualified statements and magazines' claims

First off, here's some news about Kallah Magazine. The fall issue was just printed and distributed. So you can pick up your free copy in the 5 Towns and Queens. It should be in Brooklyn and possibly Teaneck by the beginning of next week iy"H. Note the qualifier "should." I don't like to make absolute statements unless I can be absolutely -- that is 100% -- sure of the fact. That is why I didn't give the actual date for the magazine to come out until it actually was delivered. But such is not the thinking of others. Another magazine was also just distributed --its premier issue. That's right the very first issue of C----Magazine. Actually, based on the cover, I felt quite secure that it is intended for people, for whom, shall we say, finding an appropriately modest wedding gown is not a concern. It also has a website which extols the virtues of this new publication with the following:
C ---Magazine is the definitive guide to events, living, society, religion, culture, style, entertainment, dining, art, philanthropy, literature, business, technology, health, real estate, jewelry and the political scene. For this reason, C--- Magazine"s [sic for quotes used as apostrophe] enviable reputation became the strongest source of information for its audience.
C-----Magazine provides you access to the most prominent and hard-to-reach consumers. By advertising in C------ Magazine, you can connect with our exceptionally affluent readership. C -------Magazine delivers to an audience that is affluent and influential like no other national, international, or general magazine.

You know, though Kallah Magazine goes to some of the very same locations -- and more of them in the areas I saw today -- I don't boast of having an "exceptionally affluent readership." Not everyone in Queens, or even the 5 Towns, who would have access to the magazine is really rich. But that is really a minor point as far as rhetoric goes. A slightly less minor point is the confusion over the focus of the magazine. Though its title and cover picture actually conveys a particular direction, it claims to cover just about anything you can think of as "the definitive guide to events, living, society, religion, culture, style, entertainment, dining, art, philanthropy, literature, business, technology, health, real estate, jewelry and the political scene."

What is far more astounding is the claim that this publication -- which just came out now with its premier issue -- has already won an "enviable reputation" and has already come to be "the strongest source of information for its audience." Right. You know, even after over 3 years, I would not claim that Kallah Magazine is established as "the strongest source of information for its audience." I could only claim that it is a solid source of good, useful information, as well as inspiration, ideas, and insight. The magazine's shopping component is clearly not only for the affluent. Not only affluent people get married, and even those with the money to spend usually have it because they also seek to save money. Check out Rich Dad, Poor Dad for that truth about those with truly "rich" habits not blowing their money on conspicuous consumption.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Attacking with Restraint

The Abarbanel in his commentary on Parshas Shoftim offers two reasons for the ban on cutting down fruit trees during a siege. The first one is an optimistic one -- the tree can bear fruit for you in future, so you would not want to cut it down now. The second reason is more of an ethical lesson. He explains the words veoso lo tichros ki ha'adam etz hasade as signifying that it is not fitting to wage war against trees -- only against people. He elaborates that is not worthy for a hero to act mighty in fighting against a weak one. That is what it mean not to cut down the tree, which has no arms with which to fight. The tree also has no capability to seek refuge [lehikanes mifanecha bematzor] as a person can. See another post that reflects the Abarbanel's sense of the one in an advantageous position taking unfair advantage of the one in a weak position here: http://kallahmagazine.blogspot.com/2008/05/torah-true-market-value.html

Friday, September 05, 2008

Helping someone avert a prison sentence =pidyon shvuyim?

I'm not sure the equation is correct. Has anyone tried to make the argument for the man who was in the news a lot and was just sentenced more harshly by the judge than he had to be? The following was posted on a shul list. I removed some phrases with names and put in bold the quote I find most striking. So what do you think?

I hope this e-mail finds you well.

I know everyone is beseiged with requests for Tzedaka, but this one
should not be ignored. Please act TODAY !!

A person I know has been caught up in "the net of the Manhattan D. A"
and was facing a plea bargain of 3-6 years in prison.

Because of his financial situation he felt helpless and all alone and
was willing to accept a prison sentence he did not deserve because he
lacked the funds to defend himself. I found out about this 2 weeks ago,
a week before he was going to sign the plea bargain.

B"H we now have an extremely competent attorney, __________, a
partner in_____________, who is handling the case and
has already met with the D.A. and begun to disassemble "the case"
against him.

In America, you shouldn't have to go to prison because you are a
shlemazel. He is innocent of the charges against him. Rabbi __________, Av Beis Din of ____________ is actively
involved in this.

This attorney requires a retainer of $35,000. We have taken out a
bridge loan to help meet this expense, but it must be repaid.

Several people and I , including_________________
have taken it upon ourselves to raise this money. If you want to
participate in this tremendous mitzvah, you can make your check payble
to ____________.

Besides knowing the person personally, the mitzvah of Pidyon Shevuim is
one that we in our generation do not usually have the opportunity to
be M'Kayim, and will stand by our side this Yom Kippur when we ourselves
are being judged.

In this zchus, may Hashem bless you with Hatzlacha, Nachas, Gezunt, and

Please let me know what you can do. Time is of the essence and we are
many thousands of dollars short of our Goal. . If you can help, please
reply via e-mail what you can do so I can keep track.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Got the T shirt

Back around 1995 YU decided to demonstrate some holiday spirit by giving out T-shirts emblazoned with the university logo to the rebbeim, professors, and staff. From what I heard, rebbeim and perhaps some others were affronted by the gesture that put them in the same class as the janitors. So the gesture was never repeated -- at least not in the years that I remained on staff as an instructor of English at YU. But I still have the T-shirts, which has not seen much use until recently when I started wearing it to the gym. I throw a cardigan over as I make the 2 block walk over to get sleeve coverage but the logo can still be seen.

Today someone in the area whom I've been in business contact with remarked, "I didn't know you went to YU." When I explained that I taught composition and rhetoric, he said, "I respect you more now." Ah, beforehand I was regarded as just an airhead, I suppose.

Really, I don't even introduce myself as Dr. Brown, let alone run on about my whole CV. But maybe the "quiet and unassuming" guise is the wrong way to go. Perhaps I need to have a T-shirt made up with my full credentials. Or maybe I should just get a Columbia one. After all, I taught there, too.

Priorities and cleaning help

Sephardi lady did a frugality post that brings up the question of hiring cleaning help. See Orthonomics
Actually that is one of the considerations that was included in Popping the Questions that will be paired with the Money Matters feature "Saver or Spender, What's Your Score?" in the fall issue of Kallah Magazine. However, the questions for saver or spender did not include hiring cleaning help because there really is not a correct answer for this in total terms. It depends on one's situation. If both a husband and wife work as lawyers for 60 hours a week, let's say, there really may be no option but to hire cleaning help. The same is true for a family blessed with triplets. Even if not much money is coming in, there is so much required for the care of the babies that it may be impossible to cope with the housework. So there is certainly not a one-size-fits-all answer. Yet there can be an attitude that can be determined ahead of time. And, yes, should a very frugal and very extravagant type should marry, they will probably run into conflict over such issues.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

first day of school, third day of school, & orientation

Today was my second grader's first day. It was my ninth grader's third day. And it was orientation day for my sixth and seventh graders. For me it was chauffeur and mom on home duty day. There was regular bus service for the elementary school. However, as I was driving in the junior high girls for their orientation, I also drove in my younger daughter. I also got to drive in my son because, though today was already the third day, no one seems to have told the buses to start. Apparently, whenever they are not on regular schedule, they do not contact the bus office about it. But, though they are getting dismissed earlier this week, they are still starting regular time. And as school has started nearly everywhere by today, there really was no reason not to activate the busing for the high school.
Anyway I knew I had to go out again to the school at 11 to pick up the girls from orientation. I also got to pick up a classmate of one of my daughters whose mother was tied up for the day. I don't mind that, though, and was glad to be able to accommodate. I had to go out again at 3 to pick up my son and extended the ride for his classmate who lives a few miles further away from the school than we do. I just knew that when he called from the school and said there was a kid who needed a ride that it would be someone from Woodmere. I'm happy to help out, but I wonder what was the plan B in this case.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

There are some smart young couples out there

On Sunday, we visited in New Rochelle. I noticed a wedding invitation out and remarked on the fact that it like the last several ones I've received was as plain as can be. It was just printed in Hebrew and English on basic ivory stock with no color, extra lining or even a monogram. Elaborate invitations can be beautiful but usually cost $5 a piece or even more. On a large run, the plain ones would cost less than $1 a piece. That translates into hundreds of dollars in savings. Another thing that shows smart thinking is where the young couple registered. I was told that in that area they no longer register at places like William Sonoma or Tiffany's but at Bed Bath and Beyond, where they pick out the most mundane of practical items like trash cans. Ms. Maven would be most pleased, as that is what the column in the summer issue of Kallah Magazine advised -- don't register at overpriced stores and select from stores like Bed Bath and Beyond that are more fairly priced and cooperative about returns.