Academics as Entrepreneurs

The New York Times has an article that is getting widely circulated right now about the benefits of positive thinking. The article focuses on the research of Harvard Psychologist, Ellen Langer, and her research. She found that people who have a positive attitude and feel younger, will age better. She talks about the power of the placebo effect. That seems to make sense. She’s also trying to show that positive attitudes help to create better outcomes for cancer patients. That research isn’t really happening.

My great aunt Edna is 102. She benefitted from heredity low blood pressure and a good Italian diet. She also kept herself really busy from a young age, when her mother suddenly died, and she became the mother to the younger siblings, including my grandmother. Yes, she has a good attitude, but good genes, a purposeful life, and a proper diet is probably more important.

Langer’s ideas are less interesting to me than how she’s capitalizing on them. She’s setting up international resorts for people to gain positive attitudes and play golf.

Langer says she is in conversation with health and business organizations in Australia about establishing another research facility that would also accept paying customers, who will learn to become more mindful through a variety of cognitive-behavioral techniques and exercises. She has already opened a mindfulness institute in Bangalore, India, where researchers are undertaking a study to look at whether mindfulness can stem the spread of prostate cancer.

Langer makes no apologies for the paid retreats, nor for what will be their steep price. (This, too, is calculated: In the absence of other cues, people tend to place disproportionate value on things that cost more. Dan Ariely, a psychologist at Duke, and his colleagues found that pricier placebos were more effective than cheap ones.) To my question of whether such a nakedly commercial venture will undermine her academic credibility, Langer rolled her eyes a bit. “Look, I’m not 40 years old. I’ve paid my dues, and there’s nothing wrong with making this more widely available to people, since I deeply believe it.”

Making money from the academic brand is the hip thing to do. Dan Gilbert does it. I guess that academics in the sciences have been able to do this for a long time. I’m trying to think of applications for social sciences.

Plastic Women

ELLE's 21st Annual Women In Hollywood Celebration - Arrivals We really have to talk about Renee Zellweger. Here are more pictures from Gawker.

As plastic surgery goes, this wasn’t a terrible job. She doesn’t look like the Joker from Batman, and she doesn’t have fish lips. Still, she lost her signature squinty eyes and doesn’t look like herself.

The best commentary comes from Amanda Hess at Slate. She says that stars are pressured to have these procedures. Hollywood dumps women over 40. Former “it girls” like Zellweger have to get this work done, and then we make fun of them for doing it. “Plastic surgery is fake. So is the Hollywood fantasy where women over 40 just don’t exist.”

We can’t win. We’re mocked for our wrinkles. We’re mocked for removing wrinkles. Should we just disappear? Would that be more convienent for the public?

Old New York

Since we’re talking about cities, here are some pictures from the Valentine’s Manual of Old New York. I have the 1916-1917, 1923, and the 1924 edition. I’m going to sell them in my Etsy shop, when I get around to it. Here’s the digitized version.

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Quality of Life

Yesterday, I was strangely fascinated with the New York Times’ article about the hip young cities. I looked at the slide show with pictures of ski slopes, bike paths, and microbreweries several times. I like that stuff, too. Why are those cool things in cities and not out here in the suburbs?

Schools, jobs, housing and spending priorities. People in their 20′s have different needs than people in their 30′s.

Cleveland made the list as a place where young people are moving back to the urban areas. Cleveland with its decreasing population growth, actually has young people moving in. Why? There are a couple of neighborhoods that have cool restaurants and bars. They have funky old housing that is dirt cheap. The schools are horrible. So, once people have kids, they usually move back to the suburbs where they grew up. For the childless, these urban areas are perfect.

About fifteen minutes north of here, just over the border into New York state, housing is cheap. New restaurants and music shops are opening up there like crazy. Even though there isn’t a tech center or other cool jobs, they have the cheap housing and lots of places to build funky restaurants. It’s nice for us, because it’s a lot easier to get there than shlepping out to Brooklyn.

My particular suburb isn’t very exciting. It has a lot of restaurants, but most of them have been around for decades. There’s no industrial lighting or artisanal pickles. They cater to meat and potatoes old people. There are some apartment complexes, but there  hasn’t been any new construction in ages. In fact, local residents continually block the construction of apartment buildings. But people still pay a premium to live here. Why? It has a ton of pre-schools, after school sports, a bazillion civic groups, great SAT scores, a train to Manhattan, and large funky houses.

We’ve been here for three years now, and I’m starting to become more involved in the community. I could go to a meeting for some group every day. Last night, I went to the board of ed meeting. Wednesday night, I’ll be attending an information meeting on special education. There are book clubs, movie groups, spin classes, art centers. I’m throwing a pasta party for the cross country team on Friday night. Ian has a school dance that night, too. On Halloween, we’re having a bonfire party in the backyard. Most of these local activities are aimed at families, so I can’t imagine younger people going. But, for me, it’s a big playground.

So, there’s some comparative advantage going on here. Cities can short change the schools and put their resources into creating fun things for childless people. Suburbs put their effort into families. Personally, I would love artisanal pickles and bike paths AND good schools and lots of civics groups, but that’s hard to pull off.

Broken Special Ed

I do have a soft spot for 21 Jump Street, though I’m not a huge fan of  Channing Tatum. Magic Mike was a very bad movie. However, I think I like him a lot more after reading his very sweet interview in T Magazine. He says,

Tatum did not exactly coast through adolescence on the strength of his appearance, and he did not always believe that the world of ideas was available to him. As a child he struggled with A.D.H.D. and dyslexia, was prescribed stimulants and did poorly in school. “I have never considered myself a very smart person, for a lot of reasons,” he says. “Not having early success on that one path messes with you. You get lumped in classes with kids with autism and Down Syndrome, and you look around and say, Okay, so this is where I’m at. Or you get put in the typical classes and you say, All right, I’m obviously not like these kids either. So you’re kind of nowhere. You’re just different. The system is broken. If we can streamline a multibillion-dollar company, we should be able to help kids who struggle the way I did.”


How NOT to Deal with Online Critics

I’ve been bloggin, tweeting, writing, and keeping a general internet presence for more than ten years. If you put yourself “out there,” at some point someone will hate you. Some people will really hate you and write nasty things on the internet that demean your intelligence and question your value as a human being. Occasionally, there will be people who threaten you. There may be even people who locate your address. How does one deal with that?

Putting opinions and thoughts and words on the Internet is not for the faint of heart. The first year that I began blogging, some blogger with lots of traffic wrote stupid things about my research, and I freaked out a bit. A wiser friend told me not to deal with bad criticism and to give others credit for recognizing stupidity when they see it. When I started writing pieces for the popular press, the criticism rolled in on the comment sections. I learned how to lightly skim comments without actually reading them. An anonymous grad school website made rude comments about my scholarly merits. I had already built up a pretty tough skin, so none of it bothered me.

I have never been threatened, so I’m pretty lucky in that regard. I’m not sure how I would handle all that.

A recent article in the Guardian by a young author is a case study in how NOT to handle online criticism. She tracked down the address of a woman who wrote a bad review on Goodreads and went to her house. The author understands that she had stepped over the line into Crazy Town, but she still did it. She made herself more pathetic than the rude reviewer. She’s a recent graduate from Harvard. Youth and lack of experience with criticism explains a lot.

Taking criticism is part of modern lilfe. If you’re a professor or a teacher, student can leave reviews online. If you own a business or a restaurant, there’s Angie’s List and Yelp. These websites have empowered a whole class of people to tell off others who seem to have more power, money, or success. In some ways, these new avenues for criticism is very democratic. It’s useful for me as a consumer. Well, useful-ish. I’ve learned to how to read all the comments and find an average opinion.

Dealing with negative comments can be annoying for producers of words and ideas, but critical comments aren’t always terrible. Some criticism is valid. I’ve had to rethink and rework blog post and articles at times. I’m not perfect. And since I really do enjoy debates, I actually love smart criticism. Dumb comments from anonymous sources should simply be ignored. I can’t imagine caring enough to track down the address of a critic.


Do you think people are freaked out about ebola? Let’s check out the most read stories in various newspapers.

First, the New York Times…



Of the ten most viewed articles at the New York Times this morning, five are about ebola. From the Washington Post, …


Of the five most read articles at the Washington Post this morning, three are about ebola.

Vox has 25 stories about ebola.

Sexting and Feminism

So, I just read Hanna Rosin’s long article in the Atlantic about sexting. The title of the article is “Why Kids Sext.” She doesn’t really tell me why they do it. She sorta says that kids don’t have time to interact in person, because they are so over scheduled. That explains late night texting and Instagramming, not so much the sexting.

And sexting doesn’t seem to be the correct word for the phenomenon that she’s describing. Sexting is mutual dirty talk using a cell phone. What she describes is girls flashing naked pictures to their boyfriends, some of whom are dirtbags who pass the photos around to friends. I don’t think that teenage boys are sending pictures of their parts to girls. That imbalance bothers me.

Also, she talks about girls sending these pictures to guys that they like and hope to date. Ugh. So much insecurity. What do these guys do? Just flip through the naked pictures of girls and pick out the best one? Ugh.