A Night at the Stadium

Posted on September 4th, 2014 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

I went to see the Yankees play the Red Sox on Monday night, and boy, was that depressing. Part of it was that the Yankees were down, 2-0, after half an inning, then 6-0 after two, and 7-1 after three. The team looked flat and lifeless and just like they didn’t really care very much that a) they’re playing the Red Sox, b) they shouldn’t be getting crushed by a bad, last place team; c) they are technically still in the playoff hunt, and d) they should win it for the Jetes.

(Also, Mike Napoli—time to lose the beard. There’s nothing lamer than continuing a trend when it’s long over.)

So that was kind of a drag.

But perhaps worse was the overall experience. I was invited by a corporate box holder—you know who you are, and thank you very much—but I always have mixed feelings about watching sports events from boxes. You feel strangely disconnected from the game; watching it seems a not-particularly-essential option. And indeed, most of the attendees were inside chatting, eating the free food (sliders and chicken fingers? Come on, Yankees, you can do better), drinking beers. It’s hard to get into the game when most people clearly don’t give a damn; you feel a bit silly cheering. Or, when a Red Sox hitter hitting under .200 hits a massive home run over the 385 mark in center-right, booing.

And then there’s the technology issue. One couple left the box interior, briefly, to sit next to me in the open-air seats. They sat down as the Yankees were hitting in the bottom of the third and promptly began taking selfies. Look! Here I am, recording something that I’m not actually experiencing! With their backs to the field, they completely missed Martine Prado’s rocket home run to left field. Eventually they recognized that the crowd was cheering, and they turned around. “What happened?”

You could see versions of this playing out throughout the stands. Between innings the Yankees like to flash close-ups of fans on the scoreboard. At one point they showed a family whose members included a boy who looked to be about ten. He was so engrossed in texting that he didn’t even realize he was on the scoreboard. Whoops! Too late. All around—people texting, checking their email, calling friends. It sucks the energy out of the experience; it undermines the idea that you’re there to participate in something communal, something which is more fun because you’re all in it together; it prioritizes the individual over the crowd.

Don’t even get me started about concerts.

I have two young children. The Yankees were losing badly and clearly not going to come back; all around me people were not particularly paying attention to the game (a lot of the people in the box I was in weren’t even fans).

I left after four innings, and I didn’t feel guilty about it.

But technology is complicated, right? As I left the Stadium, I considered taking the subway down to Grand Central, then hopping on my commuter train to Westchester and picking up my car at the train station. Probably an hour and a half proposition. It was a hot night; I was tired. Screw that. I called an Uber car. Within a minute, I was picked up by a very nice guy driving a brand new Suburban. (Not so great on the gas, I grant you.) We had a good chat; he was from the DR, was clearing about $1300 a week with Uber, and he DJed at Harlem clubs on weekends. So that was kind of inspiring—some good things about America there. We listened to the game on his radio, agreed that the Yankees were infuriating, and he dropped me off at my car in 35 minutes. Not too shabby. I recognize the contradictions—abandoning the communal experience of public transportation for a private ride—but trust me, there’s nothing very special about Metro North at 10 PM.

Meanwhile, the Yankees beat the Sox last night, 5-1. I’m not getting my hopes up.

What Is It Like to be Bernie Madoff Now?

Posted on September 3rd, 2014 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

He’s in jail until he dies. His wife won’t talk to him. His son Mark committed suicide in 2010. And his other son, Andrew, just died of lymphoma.

It is almost enough to make you feel sorry for him.

Cell Phone Addiction

Posted on August 29th, 2014 in Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

A new study finds that college students spend an average 8-10 hours a day on their smartphones—women are on the higher side—and warns of “smartphone addiction.”

Watching people’s behavior with their phones—their inability not to look at them while in an elevator on while stuck in traffic or walking down the street—I can easily believe that such a phenomenon exists….

You Can Comment Again

Posted on August 28th, 2014 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

Recently I was tinkering with the set-up of this blog, which is probably not a good idea, and I seem to have turned off readers’ ability to comment. Either that or I’ve been boring you all to tears.

Pretty sure I fixed it…at least the commenting part.

Is Harvard Grad Josh Barro a Complete Dick?

Posted on August 28th, 2014 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

In the Times, he weighs in on his right to recline a seat on an airplane—and wonders why, if doing so is so offensive to so many people, no one has ever offered to pay him not to do so.

If sitting behind my reclined seat was such misery, if recliners like me are “monsters,” as Mark Hemingway of The Weekly Standard puts it, why is nobody willing to pay me to stop? People talk a big game on social media about the terribleness of reclining, but then people like to complain about all sorts of things; if they really cared that much, someone would have opened his wallet and paid me by now.

Here is the most charitable explanation of this argument: Barro is a student of economics, and economists are often stupid when it comes to interpersonal relations. Also, they tend to think that every problem is essentially financial.

Here is a somewhat less charitable explanation: Barro is just trying to be provocative in order to get a lot of hits. Judging from the (as of now) 2168 comments on his piece, he has succeeded.

Here is the least charitable explanation: Barro is an insensitive asshole.

On his own terms, there’s a perfectly rational explanation why no one has offered him money: Because doing so would create a moral hazard in which there is a financial incentive to act like a boor.

A more down to earth explanation would be that most people don’t think like economists; that they are uncomfortable with confrontation; that they don’t think they should have to pay someone not to be rude; and that if someone is enough of a jerk to fully recline his seat on a plane, he’s probably not someone you want to engage with.

You can probably guess where I stand on seat reclining; In the zero-sum game of airplane space, I don’t think it’s justifiable to add to your own comfort at someone else’s expense, regardless of whether the airline gives you “the right” to do so. (I would add that the discomfort of having someone recline into you is actually significantly greater than the comfort it provides the leaner, but that of course is subjective.) In any case, the facilitation of rude behavior by a corporation does not mean that behavior is morally legitimate.

That said, as a practical matter, some people insist on reclining. (Predictably, it seems to be mostly men.) So why not do this: If they lean back an inch, let it go. If they lean back entirely, politely ask them if they could put the seat up a little. If they won’t, hit them in the back of their head with a solid object, like a trophy or a lamp.

And don’t even get me started on the couple in the row behind me on my recent American flight who started listening to YouTube videos on a smartphone—without headsets—and then looked deeply offended when I politely asked if they could turn down their phone.

Larry Summers on Reading

Posted on August 28th, 2014 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

He tells the Boston Globe that he likes fiction that is “a tad primitive, meat-eating and number crunching.” Art does imitate life!

Welcome to Pine Point

Posted on August 23rd, 2014 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

I stumbled upon this piece of online storytelling at the suggestion of my friend Jim Ledbetter. In a number of different ways, both human and technological, it’s a remarkable piece of work–like nothing I’ve seen before online. You should check it out.

More on How We Read

Posted on August 21st, 2014 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

I’ve been thinking a bit about that study, reported in the Guardian, showing that readers absorb less material when they read something on an e-reader than when they read a printed book.

Because I love printed books, my reaction was pretty much one of delight—I’m happy whenever something suggests that printed books aren’t going to become obsolete.

But of course, the issue has pretty profound educational implications. More and more textbooks are being delivered (and, theoretically, read) electronically. I’m sure that’s true of more and more course materials. Not to mention the larger phenomenon of online education. Will today’s students remember less of what they’ve learned than those who read print? Or will they just need to read things more times in order to remember them?

This is one of those things where Larry Summers’ push/rush to modernize universities starts to look not so smart, and more about his impatience with perceived avatars of the past than a real understanding of smart ways in which to advance learning. I wish Walter Isaacson had pressed him a little bit harder in his “conversation” with Summers and Drew Faust a few weeks ago at the Aspen Institute….

The Sexual Assault Backlash

Posted on August 21st, 2014 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

You could predict this (in fact, I think I did): The Washington Post reports that men on college campuses accused of sexual assault are alleging that federal pressure has created an atmosphere in which they receive unfair publicity and unfair “trials.”

They fiercely dispute the validity of internal investigations that rely on a lower standard of proof for determining misconduct than what is required for a conviction of a sex crime. They also contest accounts circulating on campuses and the Internet that label them as sexual assailants or rapists.

A student at Brandeis University in Massachusetts, who was found responsible this year for sexual misconduct after an internal investigation he called biased, said: “I wasn’t given a fair trial or anything. It’s sad that this process can be abused and that the university can totally change somebody’s life, with very little evidence. . . . In the real world, rape and sexual assault are crimes punishable by going to jail — and rightfully so. Why is this left up to schools?

That last is a fair point. I’m pretty sure I wrote earlier that the federal pressure to impose rigid guidelines for handling sexual assault cases would likely force universities to involve local police departments more than they do currently. It’s interesting that some of that pressure might actually come from the men involved, who feel that they’re more likely to get a fair trial outside the campus system. What would a university do if a man accused of sexual assault insisted on going to the police?

Missouri senator Claire McCaskill, one of the senators pushing legislation that would set up mandatory policies for how campuses handle allegations of sexual assault, tells the Post that she wants as many cases as possible to be handled in court—but disagrees that there’s a widespread problem of unfair treatment of the accused.

“I don’t think we are anywhere near a tipping point where the people accused of this are somehow being treated unfairly,” McCaskill said.

Many who have faced disciplinary sanctions disagree. They question the fairness of closed-door, internal proceedings that don’t follow the same rules of evidence and procedure as criminal courts. Usually, accused students must speak for themselves, with little or no help from an attorney. Some are filing lawsuits against schools.

That, I suspect, is something we will see more and more of—universities being sued. Which will in turn force them to involve external police departments more and more. Which is something that many victims of sexual assault apparently don’t want.

But I think that may be a good thing: The idea that you could accuse someone of rape but then say, I don’t want the police to handle the matter, let’s do this on the qt, creates a situation where you’ve departed from the rule of law. The police aren’t perfect about handling allegations of sexual assault, obviously. But at least they have well-defined and public standards; rape is against the law. I think that’s better than the shifting sands of a university bureaucracy and political hype.

I can well believe that the way many universities handled these matters in the past favored the accused. But now the pendulum has swung the other way. Neither situation is tenable. This has really become a fight about cultural and political power, and not about the administration of justice.

You Read Something on a Kindle. Do You Remember It?

Posted on August 20th, 2014 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

The Guardian reports on a new study finding that people who read books on an e-reader remember them less well than people who read books on paper.

A new study which found that readers using a Kindle were “significantly” worse than paperback readers at recalling when events occurred in a mystery story is part of major new Europe-wide research looking at the impact of digitisation on the reading experience.

I am both not surprised and also sort of delighted by this news.