Friday, July 29, 2011

The Upside of Irrationality

Dan Ariely's The Upside of Irrationality  is easy to read and offers interesting insights that show human nature is not strictly rational in the economic sense of seeking the greatest gain at the lowest cost.  He goes through some experiments that show people will leave off a task sooner if they see it is futile (think the myth of Sisyphus). While some may think it is a dream job to be paid to do nothing, such a position can bring in income but no sense of personal fulfillment, which human beings crave. I agree with this and have experienced it myself. For example, I've been asked to write letters for nonprofit organizations that then never went out.  I found it did not make much difference to my feelings about it whether I had been paid for the work or not. It still is somewhat demoralizing to have done the work for no reason -- like taking the time to wash something that is then tossed into the garbage. Even if you get the promised $1, you would not likely want to repeat the task.

Another irrational finding is: "Greater labor leads to greater love" (p.105). That's the appeal of DIY projects and cooking at home -- even for those who are not motivated by saving the cost of hiring someone else to do the work for them. There are many ramifications for that, including relationships, parenting, and, I would say, even religious practices. Generally, people believe that Judaism light will be more appealing to more people, but if you lighten the labor, you do end up lightening the love, as well. And, certainly, engaging directly with a mitzvah, as in the accounts of the Tannaim who would prepare something for Shabbos with their own hands rather than leaving it to servants or others in the household, can simultaneously demonstrate one's love for Shabbos and increase it.

Another very important observation for relationships -- whether they are personal or business is the power of an apology that conveys sympathy for the problem one has encountered-- even if it does not solve it or really diminish the inconvenience. "Indeed, we found that the word 'sorry' completely counteracted the effect of annoyance. (For handy reference, here's the magic formula: 1 annoyance + 1 apology = 0 annoyance.)  (p/ 150) Also see and Ms. Maven's advice to use an apology to erase mistakes  at

The drawbacks he finds in online dating are very similar to those of the shidduch system. People spend far more time looking over profiles  than interacting with people in person.  He concludes that it shouldn't be called "online dating" at all:  "If you called the activity something more accurate, such as 'online searching and blurb writing,' it might be a better description of the experience" (p. 221). And that even without the time spent trying to dig out information about prospective dates from references. And proof that profiles (like shidduch resumes) or descriptions of what one is looking for are useless because the searchable terms have very little bearing on whether or not a couple will click when they meet."This is the essence of the problem with a market that attempts to turn people into a list of searchable attributes" (p. 230).

The only flaw I would point is the fact that the experiments that are described really do not constitute a broad and random enough sampling to truly prove the theories.

Related post:


I put in a couple plus hours every week as adispatcher for my local Chaverim. All the people who work for it do so as volunteers, but there are still expenses to cover for the purchase of equipment needed to change your flat tire, give you a boost, or get your car or door open for you. See Home Page

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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Monday, July 25, 2011

for L'Engle fans

I just finished reading A Circle of Quiet. I requested it through inter-library loan and see that it was mislabeled as fiction by the Levittown library, even though it say "non-fiction" right on the inside cover. Though she does admit that the detailed sketch she presents of  the clash between newcomers and long-time residents in her  provincial town is fictionalized, that is only one small part of the book.

  This is not a novel but a meditative partial autobiography. It is not structured as a bildungsroman , though she does dwell on key memories of her seeing herself as a writer, as well as incidents that feature in her novels. L'Engle recalls being called "such a child" by one of her own children, in a good way, and that may be the same idea in having a character say something very close to that to Vicky in The Arm of the Starfish.   Those who have followed the Austin family chronicles would recognize that her daughter's refusal to eat meat from pigs after reading Charlotte's Web became an attribute of the sister of the main character. And the uncle's pronouncement of his own religious faith in The Moon by Night appears very close to the author's own, a type of existential religion formed on the basis of agnosticism.

Existential is one word she likes to describe her life, as well as ontological, a term she returns to again and again.  She also looks at art as ontological -- significant, though not obviously signifying. Reading and writing are primary subjects in this rather meandering book, which is only divided into 4 large sections rather than chapters (perhaps that is meant to correspond to the opening sentence, "We are four generations under one roof"). Writers should appreciate all her discussions about craft, exercise, drafting, discarding, and rejection. Her masterpiece A Wrinkle in Time, was rejected by so many editors, only to finally be published and then to win the Newberry award in 1963. L'Engle also published a number of books for adults and addresses why certain deep ideas are better by children. A Circle of Quiet was published in 1972 and reflects her concerns with what confronted that generation and the need to acknowledger mystery, as well as meaning.

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Sunday, July 24, 2011

Get blown away

at the American Museum of Natural History. See my review here:

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Friday, July 22, 2011

Saving on groceries

I am really tired of "advice" that promises far more effect than it delivers. I had the radio on WCBS news when a person said she had the solution to buying groceries  without breaking your budget at a time when food prices have escalated. No coupons. No suggestions of buying in bulk. No suggestions of buying seasonal produce. No suggestions of planning your menus around what is on sale at your local store, so that you incorporate blueberries when they are $1.50 a pint and not when they are $4 a pint.

 Her suggestion was to buy meat labeled "round" or "loin" b/c it's cheaper and less fatty than other cuts. Oh, yes, what a big help that is! The other suggestions were to shop only once a week b/c the assumption is that more trips to the store mean more likelihood of impulse buys. The fact is that shopping at only one place once a week is more efficient in terms of gas and time expenditure. But it does not really save you money on groceries. On the contrary, it prevents you from being able to take advantage at specials at more than one store, which is, supposedly, what some of her other advice consisted of.

She recommended an app that allows you to scan an item to alert you if other stores in the area offer it at a cheaper price. Another high-tech recommendation that is completely useless in terms of saving on items is hand-held scanners in some supermarkets that let you know the running total. You could really do that yourself anyway with a calculator or even an old fashioned pencil and paper. And, though, that might prevent you from spending more than you intended in that trip, it won't really save you money on the purchases you make.

Related posts:,

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Monday, July 18, 2011

Crass Capitalization

Orthonomics: Resist Using Travesty to Prompt a Agenda
Also see: Divrei Chaim: crass

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Sunday, July 17, 2011

Don 't bother me with facts

That the attitude of some people who mistakenly go with their intuition rather than established fact. The mistakes people make in causation often accounts for false conclusion, which are not only wrong but dangerous.   
In The Invisible Gorilla: And Other Ways Our Intuitions Deceive Us,   Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons explore various example of false or perceptions.  Part of the book is devoted to the completely unproven theory that MMR vaccines cause autism. Some of the perception of causation is simply due to correlation. Symptoms of autism tend to become apparent around the age of 2 after a child receives the shot. 

As they put it, "A parent's story about her son deteriorated after receiving the MMR vaccine and her expressed belief that the vaccine caused her son's autism is compelling, memorable, and hard to dismiss from our thoughts. Even in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence and statistics culled from studies of hundreds of thousand of people, that one personalized case carries undue influence."  (p. 178) The mother her was Jenny McCathy, an actress who broadcast her point of view on The Oprah Winfrey Show. As a result of so many people buying into this theory, many children were not immunized and contracted the measles.

So we have the belief of an celebrity model/actress versus that of science, and people will go with the former. Today I saw a posting on one of the shul lists that said: "I am looking for a Pediatrician who doesn't impose vaccinations. ...Please only respond with a name of a doctor. I do not want to receive anyone else's opinions or comments on vaccinations. I am very well read on this issue."

In other word, "I'm certain I'm right and don't want to be bothered with facts that could show how I am endangering my own child and others." This is not just a matter of personal choice, for it has ramifications for the health of others. The reason we have heard of measles cases spreading in the US is because so many parents have decided not to immunize their children. You may wonder, why not consults experts? No, instead the parent wants to go with his/her sense of what is right. 

It just happens to be that that instinct is dead wrong -- both scientifically and halachically. Here is Rabbi Avinar's response to the question of immunization: :Vaccinations
Q: Should we have our children vaccinated? People mention that there are risks involved.A: The chances of side-effects are extremely low compared to the hundreds of millions of child who receive vaccinations. In life-threatening situations we follow the majority, and all the more so when the minority of cases is (numerically) negligible.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A summertime visit to the Morgan Library and Museum

Several reasons to visit the Morgan, ranging from lifting anxiety to saving money with the 2 for 1 voucher you can print out.

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Divrei Chaim: the economics of orthodoxy

Divrei Chaim: the economics of orthodoxy: "Yesterday one of my daughters was looking at the price of camps and even she, who has a teenager's sense of economy, was amazed at the price..."

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Monday, July 11, 2011

Coupon Moms

 "Marketers: Beware the Coupon Mom" warns that some of the ones in that category are a threat to brands because they're wise to the tricks and arm themselves against them in their quest to save money.
""Many mom bloggers are extremely marketing-savvy, some much more than the brand managers," said John Andrews, founder-CEO of Collective Bias, a social-media unit of Mars Advertising."
The article includes an interview with Ms. Lincicum, a couponing mom, strategy for saving runs contrary  to standard shopping approaches:
"the fewer trips to the store, the fewer impulse buys and the more you'll save. "
 "'My rule is to never buy something when you need it.'"
and the downside of coupons for people who want to eat healthfully: "'"We could save more if we ate processed stuff," she said. "Adding produce makes this automatically not a 90%-off trip. But this is real life.'"

The article ends with a graph from Nielsen:
Trump hourly chart

Friday, July 08, 2011

Reviews and skewed views

I was planning to post some reviews of books. I glanced at Amazon's to get a sense of the popular view. One book had an average of over 4 stars but had a couple of 1 star ratings. I looked at those. Both of them complain about what they consider the excessive price for the kindle edition. Neither of them actually read the book they are supposedly reviewing. If they wish to complain about the price of e-books, fine, but that does not mean they should give a low rating to a book they haven't read. And for those people who do not wish to shell out $14.95 per book, there's always the library. You may not be able to get the book as soon as it comes out, but you will be able to get it eventually.

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Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Tigers, oh my, in Lego at the Bronx Zoo

Check it out at

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Lots of options and zero cost at Bryant Park

Yoga classes, knitting classes, juggling classes,  live music, movie, and more all free at Bryant Park:

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Tuesday, July 05, 2011

The good, the bad, and the truth

See my 2 blogs on marketing food: facts vs. perception with regard to names and high fructose corn syrup
and on tuna: something to be avoided or to be added to your diet for good health?

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Fashion failure

Yesterday, we were in the city. My husband agreed to stop at Bloomingdale's so that my daughter could see what it is we have (not) been missing. No purchases were made there, though, we did spot a veritable bargain -- a knife set for $999 that would be over $1500 if sold separately -- that is according to Bloomingdale's prices, of course. You can also pick up a Burberry's short-sleeve shirt for a little girl for just $250 or buy her a jacket from the same distinctive pattern for just under $700. Perhaps now my daughter understands why we don't shop there.
But, anyway, while we were there, we rode the elevator down along with a woman who was wearing a sheitel. She asked me where the tznius clothes can found. She flew in from Florida  even took a taxi to Brooklyn but found nothing. I sympathized. As I told her, even the "frum" stores are carrying short skirts and short sleeves. The only hope is that the fall line will bring more options that do not require layering to keep one covered. Later on, I saw that there were a few maxi skirts in H &M. It seems you either find lengths above or about  the knee  or down to the floor -- with nothing in between.

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Saturday, July 02, 2011

On the water -- free in NY, plus special events for July 4th

Read about where and when you go kayaking for FREE in New York:
 for free ferries, including the one to Governors Island, where special events are scheduled for Independence Day, see
For those of you who want to remain on land -- it is a good day to visit the Cooper Hewitt, which is offering FREE admission for July 4th with extended open hours, as well. Read about it at

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