Sunday, October 31, 2010

Oprah, Designer Fashion and Groupthink

I was in the local laundromat a few days ago, and Oprah's talk show happened to be on television there. They were doing a segment where they dress identical twins in the same outfit, one from a top-name designer, the other off-the-rack from wherever, and the audience is supposed to guess which one was designer.

The models were wearing the "little black dress" under a fake fur stole (I guess that's what it's called, it looked like a vest). My eyes were drawn instantly to the model on the right, who looked shapely and confident, as opposed to the other model, whose dress looked, for lack of a better term, flat. Remembering that they were identical twins, it was obvious that I was missing something. I noticed that the shading on the "shapely" model's dress happened to have lighter or darker areas apparently placed for strategic highlights, where the other dress was the same shade throughout. So, you'd think we have a clear winner, right?

Wrong. Oprah then asked the audience to vote by applause for which model was wearing the designer outfit. There was roughly the same amount of applause for each model. The conclusion was that there was no difference, that off-the-rack is just as good as custom design.

At this point, it's all I can do not to start yelling in the laundromat: "You people are nuts! I'm just a guy and I can tell the difference! Look at them! The curves! The shading! Oh, never mind..."

So we have an example of groupthink. It wasn't just Oprah. This was the entire audience deciding that there wasn't a difference, even though the difference was readily apparent. At least that's the charitable interpretation. The worst part is, it's quite possible that all of those people can vote.


I just had to get that off my chest. Thanks for reading.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Whatever Floats Your Boat

Item: a recent article on yourtango.com described things that women wear that annoy men. Apparently single men don't like women who wear outfits that show excessive cleavage, because they're "slutty." Well, I beg to differ. Anyone who has been to a bar more than once knows that what you see isn't necessarily what you get.

Item: I was having lunch in a local sports bar and overheard a conversation between two of the waitresses. They were talking about what types of men they like, and the question arose: "What about chubby?" That this question would even be asked indicates that there's no obvious consensus. That brings me to the point of this article.

We all have our own preferences. Hopefully, we honor those preferences, as opposed to going after what we think we should have. When we deny our preferences in favor of the accepted norms, bad things happen. First, we approach potential partners who don't fit our preferences, but do fit the norms. When this happens, we lose, especially if the potential partners are also interested. Second, because we deny our own preferences, we implicitly deny that others have their own preferences, so we pass up potential partners who would be interested because we assume they wouldn't be, and we lose again.

So what's the answer? Take out your laundry list of qualities you're looking for in a partner, and examine each one to see if it reflects what you really want, or what you think you're supposed to have.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Book Review: The Hundred-Year Lie

I looked through The Hundred-Year Lie: How to Protect Yourself from the Chemicals That Are Destroying Your Health by Randall Fitzgerald a few times in the local Borders, but was too scared to buy a copy until a couple of months ago. Now, I'm too scared to finish reading it. This book details how during the last hundred years we've industrialized agriculture and made health care more "scientific," but in the process have filled our landscape and bodies with chemicals, some of which are known to be harmful, and others with unknown long-term effects. What's worse, the effects we do know about are based on the chemicals tested singly, so we don't know about how they may act in combination.

As a recovering materialist, I have a different response to the book than most people probably would. I'm not joining an environmental crusade or pushing alternative medicine. I just have this one point: if we're all just bags of chemicals, as the medical industry seems to think, shouldn't we be a lot sicker than we are given the amount of toxic substances we're exposed to? That we are healthy at all points to something missing in our model. See my posts at my other blog for more details.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Thoughts on My Upcoming Tattoo

I have an appointment Saturday with a local tattoo parlor to get the astrological symbol for Vesta permanently engraved on my left shoulder. Vesta is an asteroid that symbolizes devotion to a cause or work. The cause, in my case, is bringing the benefits of spirituality to those for whom organized religion and a literal interpretation of their holy book for whatever reason just doesn't work. I have joined the unnumbered others who are also doing this work. I say unnumbered because they don't look any differently from you or me. You may not notice anything different if you happen to meet one of us, but we're in every city, and we're here to help.

The symbol is a stylized temple flame. The flame burns on an altar on which I will leave the sacrifices of my perceived limitations and my judgements of others. By those sacrifices I hope to clear more space within myself for divine magic to help myself and those around me.

This act represents a major step in my life and I'm really looking forward to it. Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Here's a Real Health Care Reform: Try Using the Placebo Effect

At the time of this writing, our friends in Washington are arguing over a new health care plan that will either fix everything or ruin everything, according to which side you want to believe. My opinion is that things will remain basically the same whether the plan passes or not from the standpoint of the people receiving health care. Yes, more people will be included, and most of the people who were already included will pay a bit more, and some will pay a lot more. But the whole purpose of this is health, which includes life expectancy and quality of life. There's room for improvement with the former and we can do a lot better with the latter. I have my own plan to achieve this, and I can guarantee you that it won't cost a penny more than we already pay, and will most likely cost us a lot less.

Before I tell you about my plan, I would like to talk a bit about how we got into this mess. I mentioned in a prior post that health insurance actually makes health care more expensive in the long run because it hides the cost from the consumer. Nationalized health care is even worse because it hides the cost from everyone. I may have also mentioned that we give monopolies to corporations who develop new drugs, and put into a place a testing system that costs billions of dollars and still doesn't keep out all of the harmful drugs, but does give the pharmaceutical companies an excuse to earn windfall profits while their patents last. Also, we've replaced natural substances in our diet like animal fat and cane sugar with processed substances like corn syrup and canola oil, in the former case to lower costs, in the latter for health reasons. These things are all true, but none of them are the root cause of the problem.

Here's the root cause: our medical model implies that the human body is a machine. We've taken the position that only pharmaceutical drugs and medical procedures can fix our problems. Yes, diet and exercise are said to be helpful, but that only supports my point, which is this: all of these things reduce medical problems (and their prevention) to issues of chemistry and mechanics, and completely leave out (by design) the role of the mind and emotions. The worst part is that we all know about something that proves that our model is incomplete at best.

If you haven't guessed by now, I'm talking about the Placebo Effect. The effect is so well known that no study of new pharmaceutical drugs is considered to be valid unless it is double-blind. Not only is the patient not allowed to know if he's really getting the new wonder drug instead of a sugar pill, the person giving the pill isn't allowed to know either!

So my idea is this: instead of treating the placebo effect as something to be eliminated through controls, why not find out how it works and how to use it to our advantage? If sugar pills will work in some cases and we can find out why they work, then we have a solution that works for less money and with fewer side effects. I'm sure I'm not the first person to have this idea, but maybe if enough of us mention it they'll actually try it.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The New Camelot? I Sure Hope Not!

I've seen a few references this year about the Obama Administration being the new "Camelot," referring of course to the JFK Administration which had that nickname. When I hear that, I wonder to myself if the person using the expression has actually read the King Arthur story. Those of you who have read the story will know where I'm going with this; for those who haven't, it's not pretty. The story ends with a dead King Arthur and a kingdom collapsed in ruins. The story is really about the end of the Golden Age.

At the time of this writing, unemployment is approaching double digits, and the deficit is above a trillion. The national debt is in the trillions. Sooner or later, if deficit spending at the current rate continues, and there's no indication that the budget can be balanced any time soon, the interest on the national debt will exceed the tax revenue that can be collected. At that point there will be two options: default on the debt or print money to pay the interest. Either option would be disastrous. So maybe there's something to this Camelot analogy after all.

Monday, June 22, 2009

On Tobacco and Health Care

I briefly watched our President speak about the new tobacco law. I was surprised to learn that peer pressure wasn't the driving force behind teen smoking, as it was when I was a teenager. No, the driving force is advertising, combined with candy-flavored cigarettes that make smoking more accessible. I also learned that, unlike the traditional warning printed on cigarette boxes, which no one pays any attention to, the new graphic details of the effects of smoking that will be prominently pictured on the sides of the new cigarette packaging will be much more effective in scaring would-be smokers.

All sarcasm aside, I really wanted to talk about the new government health plan instead. First, it's a good indicator of how bad things are that people with health insurance are filing bankruptcy due to medical bills. I'll talk about an implication of that later. An even better indicator of how bad things are is that the very idea that the people who brought you Medicare can do a better job of providing health insurance than private industry is spoken in public with a straight face. What's even worse is that those people are most likely correct.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out. One thing I expect to happen is that the government health plan will come out at a much lower price point than the private plans, eventually choking them out. One thing I don't expect to see happen is a re-evaluation of the process and the underlying model of the body. But you never know. We could throw out the model of body as machine and replace it with the model of body as garden. We could question whether the patent-protected new drugs with horrific side effects are really worth the money we're spending on them. Or it may be more effective to daydream about winning the lottery and retiring in Hawaii.