Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Celebrex Good Times, Come On!

There is something haunting and slightly sinister about this Celebrex ad. At 2.5 minutes (eons longer than your average 30-second spot), it even attracted the attention of The New York Times. The voice is lulling and monotonic, like that of a too-perfect human replica, and the animation, spa-ready guitar music, and heavy acronym usage conspire to paralyze your consciousness. It's like joining a cult.

I'm moving again. Still within Williamsburg. Don't ask.

Friday, April 20, 2007

The Logic of a Salesman

I'm most likely moving (again) into an apartment with a high school friend. I was with the sales agent this morning, viewing the place. I called Brad to let him know it looked fine to me; he said to make sure to get the third-floor apartment, even though I had been shown the second-floor one.

Me: "Yeah, I think we'd like to take the third-floor apartment."
Salesman: "Yeah? You sure? That's an extra two flights of stairs. Six flights instead of four."
Me: "I'm fine with that."
Salesman: "Okay. Have fun with those stairs."

I might have been more susceptible to his not-so-subtle pressure had Brad not warned me that he'd try to get rid of the second-floor apartment first, since they were priced the same even though the higher apartment is clearly more valuable.

That's my problem: I'm too trusting. If Brad hadn't warned me, I would have just thought the salesman was looking out for my well-being, trying to alert me to an issue I hadn't considered. But in reality, he was trying to dump a less attractive apartment, knowing it'd be easier to sell the other.

I learned something today: Don't trust a salesperson. Always look for the motivations behind their advice. An important lesson for a consumer society.

In other news, JP Smith has a blog. Visit it.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

A couple weeks ago I was talking with my boss, FZ, about, you know, geopolitics and stuff. I think at the moment we were harping on the extraordinary benefit of having the dollar as the world's reserve currency, and whether there's a way to quantify that benefit.

"What if instead of the dollar, people used the euro, or a basket of world currencies as the reserve?" he said. "On a flight recently I was sitting next to Lloyd Blankfein--"

"Wow, the CEO of Goldman Sachs," I said, my mind reeling. "Must have made for good conversation."

FZ smiled a little, humoring my naivete. "Yes, he's a friend of mine."

This got me thinking about the changing conception of friendship. I doubt, for instance, that FZ and Lloyd have one another over for ball games, to sip pinot and talk about currency baskets. I doubt their kids get together for play-dates. I doubt they vacation together. Do they talk about marital problems together, or how to convince their kids to do their homework?

The idea of friendship among the powerful elite must be astronomically different from what you and I consider it. I think friend comes to more closely mean "business acquaintance." I assume it's a byproduct of busyness, and the inability to connect on an emotional level much deeper than a few five-hour transatlantic flights would allow.

But now that I'm thinking about it, I guess it's not too different from the social life of an average office worker. I mean, if you work in an office, how many people do you hang out with outside of your cubicle walls? I know some offices are particularly young and cohesive, but for the most part I imagine you develop few emotional connections to the people you spend eight or more hours a day with. I thought journalism would be different, with late-night gab sessions about current affairs over brews at the local watering hole (am I trying to see how many cliches I can fit into a single sentence? Sadly, no. This is all unintentional), but I was wrong.

Monday, April 16, 2007

I'm very interested in the impact of the internet and Google on human memory. If we have all the world's information at our fingertips, does that mean it no longer needs to be in our brain grooves? If you see any research or writing related to this idea, let me know.

In Ithaca this weekend, Alisa and I saw two impressive waterfalls (Ithaca is Gorges!) and met a Frenchman that, over the course of a glass of wine or two, claimed to have the power of hypnosis and to be able to beat me up in a bar fight. We also ate a phenomenal strawberry salad.

Meanwhile, also at the dinnertime reception for Consumer Campers, Brian Wansink played the didjeridoo.

Also, if you want to see my most recent article in Newsweek, go here.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Songs That Make Me Happy

One of the early benefits of the Happiness Journal has been my realization of how much music can affect my mood. Virtually every time I feel exuberant, a particular song has been the immediate cue. Certainly there are important, underlying causes, be they chemical or sociological or what have you, but it's fascinating to know that music is the final switch that can turn on a spell of contentedness.

Here are my top happy-inducing songs of the last couple weeks:
The National, "Fake Empire"

Stars, "Ageless Beauty (the Most Serene Republic remix)"

LCD Soundsystem, "Someone Great"

Dianogah, "Indie Rock Spock Ears"

A couple of interesting and related points:
  • Unhappiness spells are rarely triggered by music. This isn't a finding from the last few weeks, because I've been pretty pleased with the world lately, but just thinking back on it, whenever I'm feeling down, it hasn't been triggered by music. In fact, usually during down periods I don't even feel like listening to music at all.
  • The effect of these songs are strong for a short while, ranging from a day to about a week, but they inevitably fade and become just another song. Even so, I'm excited about the idea of creating a Happy Mix, with all the happy-inducing songs of a certain period, to see the effect of listening to them all at once (albeit after the majority of their magic has worn off). Will it be a concentrated blast of sonic pleasure?
  • Since we're digitizing our world, the mathematical properties of every song (tempo, etc.) will one day be easily available in some giant, searchable database. (Think of the Music Genome Project.) And since my economics degree taught me (forced me?) to believe in the power of numbers and, especially, representative sampling, eventually I'll have a large enough sample of happy-inducing songs to hone in on the likely musical properties of other potentially happy-inducing songs. I guess it's the same idea as the one behind those new recommendation radio sites like Last.FM and Pandora, but with a more specific purpose.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

The National

It's time once again to return to my occasional attempt to convert the world to National worship. The new album, "Boxer," is transcendent. There are very, very few bands that impress me album after album; most fade over time, a waning that is usually inversely correlated with popularity. Maybe the National just haven't reached the requisite level of popularity for them to start sucking. If that's why they keep getting better and better (or at least keep staying as good as they have been in the past--I doubt anything can surpass Alligator), I hope they stay penniless and dark. I hope lead vocalist Matt Berninger's girlfriends high-heel-stomp his hypertrophied heart.

One beautiful thing about the National is that they excel at producing the optimal number of love-at-first-sound songs, that draw you in on first listen, and songs that take a little more work, that reward repeated listening and eventually replace the love-at-first-sound songs that inevitably dull.

So anyway, listen to "Boxer," the new album*, and especially "Fake Empire," one of those love-at-first-sound songs that will leave your socks foot-less (i.e. after knocking you out of them).

In other news, congratulations to Cormac McCarthy on joining Oprah's Book Club! Has the club ever before included marauding cannibals, who keep their victims alive so they can keep legs and limbs fresh longer, and nuclear Armageddon?

Lastly, my old boss at the World Bank asked me to apply for an open position in DC. I'm considering it, but not sure whether I'm ready to uproot my life again so soon. I'm also not sure whether I want to work at the World Bank for the next two years. Oh, the choices! When will they stop? When I'm dead. Which is also when I'll sleep.

*The album's not out until May. Yes, I feel a little bad about pirating it, but note that I have already purchased tickets to an NYC show in May, might buy tickets to a second show, and will probably still buy the album when it comes out. So know that I've given them plenty of money.

Friday, April 06, 2007


I'm watching the Jackass movie right now, and I am transfixed. I rarely laugh out-loud when watching movies by myself, but Jackass invariably does it. It reminds me of A.O. Scott's brilliant essay on boffo humor. I think it's partly so appealing because it's the shit you'd do if you were completely uninhibited by conscience, society, responsibility, and pain threshold.

Speaking of pain threshold, there's a new MTV show called Scarred. They've been playing commercials for it all night. In one, a skateboarder disconnects two of his fingers from his hand; the bones jut through his palm. Now, I'm media-savvy and mostly desensitized to visual imagery, but I have to cover my eyes during each advertisement now.

Thursday, April 05, 2007


A quote I stole from Anjali:
"A certain man," said Rex, as he turned round the corner with Margot, "once lost a diamond cuff-link in the wide blue sea, and twenty years later, on the exact day, a Friday apparently, he was eating a large fish -- but there was no diamond inside. That's what I like about coincidence."
A Sopranos-related link I stole from Joshua, with mention of a Sopranos-related philosophical work called "Bada-Being and Nothingness."

My new favorite blog, The Numbers Guy blog, by a guy that writes mainly about the misuse of numbers in the media, but also has some interesting thoughts on numbers in general, and the sense of legitimacy they provide. His columns are even better. Check out this one on whether the iPod's shuffle feature is truly random and this one on how economists would split a three-way cab ride.

On the personal side, I moved to where the Hasidim and hipsters are last weekend: Williamsburg. But in a twist, my high school water polo friend just arrived in town, and wants to find a place with me. Josh said, "When it rains, it pours," and I said that raining apartments would be painful.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Holy Wonder

I just got off the phone with my old boss at the World Bank, Gladys, who moved from Mexico City to Washington, DC last fall. We chatted about her acclimatization: learning to love celebrity news (Britney!), following the presidential rat race, getting a driver's license. We chatted about the provocation for her city switch, the rising crime in Mexico City. And we chatted about the holes in Wolfowitz's socks.

Monday, April 02, 2007

I'm rethinking the Happiness Journal. The provocation: laziness. There's just no way I'm going to keep a regular journal as detailed as the one I proposed a couple weeks ago. Besides, what I'm really interested in learning (at this point) is whether my state of happiness is cyclical, or highly influenced by some very basic and regular ritual, like sleeping or weather.

My new proposal is to make it a daily journal, with a simple quantification of happiness state (very low, low, neutral, high, very high; with corresponding numbers), duration, previous night's sleep, and a comments section, which would include anything pertinent, like a particular song's influence or a breakup or something like that. With the date, I can later go back and find historical information on weather, current affairs, etc.