Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Modern Utilitarians

In philosophy this year we learned about utilitarianism, which is essentially the idea that every action is good if it is in the interest of producing the greatest amount of pleasure, or happiness, for the greatest number of people. Of course, this was an extremely difficult task, and as John Stuart Mill, a later utilitarian pointed out, it is difficult to tell because there are different types of pleasure or happiness for different people. Following on that problem, one of the main reasons that it has been generally disregarded as a philosophy is that its tenants are essentially impossible to propagate. Who can tell what produces the greatest amount of pleasure, or happiness, is for the greatest number of people?

Well, up until recently, the answer was nobody. But now that we are beginning to understand more about the brain, and can do very intricate brain-imaging surveys, we may literally be able to tell which activities and which emotions contribute to the greatest amount of pleasure and happiness for the average person. We could determine, based on the average life span, and the average amount of this activation expected to occur during a day, on average how much pleasure and happiness individuals will experience during their lifetimes. We could then intricately calculate the value, perhaps in terms of happiness but especially in terms of pleasure, of each individual's life. Eventually, we may even be able to figure out each decision that we make based on whether or not it was for the greatest good of society.

Now, I'm not saying that we should do this. I'm just saying that it could form the background for a sick science-fiction novel. You heard it here first.

The role of techno in our lives

It's no secret that I love techno and really any electronica music in general, but I have often had trouble explaining to non-believers exactly why it is, to quote my brother, "so money."

That is to say, I had trouble explaining why until last night. That's when I had the realization that if classical music is the Thinking Man's music, then techno is the Thinking Man Who Also Wants To Party's music. The beautiful thing about classical music is that it is sort of in the background, leaving you able to think your own thoughts and generally do your own thing while it is on. Techno, for much of the song, functions in the same way, allowing you to think on your own while it chimes away in the background. But while much classical music is always in this prepubescent state, techno merely begins as such, as a prelude to something bigger, to something greater.

And when it finally reaches the zenith, the breakdown, all you can think about doing is having a party. You've been tricked into relaxing during the beginning of the song, making the moment when it changes that much more palpable.

So, I guess what I'm saying is that you don't have to listen to or appreciate techno. If you enjoy just thinking, you should probably listen to less obtrusive music, and if all you ever want to do is party, then there's probably music for you too. But if you, like me, enjoy both thinking and partying, then turn the radio station to 92.7 the next time you're driving around. Just be careful not to swerve into oncoming lanes once you get the urge to dance.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Life without cell phones

People always talk about how the internet has such an impact on our lives--and it undoubtedly has. The problem is that the invention has had such an impact that it's very difficult to imagine life without the internet. Businesses would be changed so much--it's not only that things would go slower, it's also that certain, major parts of my life would simply not exist.

But cell phones are a different story. I can imagine life without cell phones and other mobile devices. And let me tell you, it is a terrible, terrible existence. At college, parties would be smaller, things would never be coordinated as easily, and it would be much easier for authorities to ruin the night because it would be just about impossible to regroup. Without cell phones, parents have more reason to be worried about their kids, kids have less freedom, and if something bad does happen when the kid is separated from the parent, it's harder to deal with the situation.

My friend Austin and I went to the MOMA in New York a few days ago, and both sort of wanted to go our own ways and check it out on our own. Without cell phones? Would have been complicated and probably not worth the risk. But with cell phones it was an absolute non-issue. So for anybody who thinks that I don't count my blessings often enough--you're wrong. I think about the blessing of mobile communication all the time.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

A few quick links

I've pretty much become obsessed with Amazon over the past couple of days because my friend Ben made the top 100 yesterday with his book, which I haven't read yet but I'm sure will be fantastic. Congrats Ben!

But while I was looking around Amazon I also saw this list, describing the top Harry Potter reading towns in America per capita. I was proud to see that my very own Mill Valley was one of the tops on this list, at #36. Frankly, I'm surprised that we weren't higher, considering that practically everybody I know has read Harry Potter. Maybe its a matter of correlation versus causation, because I would never consciously hang out with somebody that had denied themselves the pleasure of reading these books.

So, if you're in Mill Valley, buy Harry Potter online and boost our rating on the list. And no matter where you are, check out Ben's book, if only to find out more about one of my best friends and how he thinks.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Is there any true altruism?

Historically, there have been two camps in this debate. One says that there is absolutely such a thing as true altruism, and it is possible to give to others at your own expense. The other says that all altruism is based on the selfish desires of making yourself look good or feeling more at peace about your other less-than-altruistic actions. Both sides have somewhat strong arguments and there is no reason why the argument wouldn't continue into perpetuity.

But I am going to spice up the argument a little bit and toss a third candidate into the fray: pure laziness. I don't know what else to do with them and seemingly all of my classes are changing the textbook next semester, so I have decided to donate my textbooks to apparently needy people in Africa. While I suppose that they might need the books more than I do, my real reason for doing so is that I am too lazy to send them across the country to California. I would argue that more altruism stems from laziness than one would otherwise presume. I call this theory the "Procrastination from Econ Theory." If you'd like, leave a comment and let me know if you agree with it or not. I am more serious about this than you'd probably assume.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Warriors at a glance

Yes, we lost tonight, and yes, Bill Simmons was right in his prediction of the Jazz in 5. But let us not forget that the Warriors are still one of the youngest teams in the league, and losing in the second round of the playoffs is quite impressive, especially considering that about a month ago I was wondering whether or not we would even make the playoffs. Our trip to the second round is undeniably a good development. If we can improve our free throw shooting over the off-season, re-sign Matt Barnes, and Biedrens and Ellis continue to develop, I see no reason why we couldn't be even more competitive next season.

I compare the Warriors today to the adolescent bear. As a cub, he bides his time, content to suffer minor defeats and cherishes every minor victory while he is still growing and learning his place in his society. As he gets older, he starts to show potential for greatness, but he still is held back by a quick temper and an undeserved feeling of entitlement. We are the adolescent bear, feeling that we deserve calls from the refs instead of earning our respect. But soon, we will break out, grow into an adult bear, and show the world what we can do. But that will have to wait for next season. For now, we hibernate, and grow stronger.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

You can do anything, but you can't do everything

When I was younger, teachers would sometimes reminded us not to answer questions to tests in a way that they coined the "shotgun method," which is just writing down everything you can think of relevant to the question and hoping that somewhere in there is the right answer. Apparently, this was nefarious and teachers weren't going to get pushed around by a bunch of little kids screaming, "but look! I have the answer right there!"

Aside from the obvious flashback fear it gives me to think of prepubescent kids being told about how a shotgun works, the whole phenomenon frustrates me to this very day. Whose to say that there is only one right answer? Clearly, if an answer contradicts itself it isn't as good, but an answer that approaches all side of the issue should be valued, perhaps valued even above the conventional one-sided approach.

Anyway, I've come to like the idea so much that I've decided to adopt it as my new approach to thinking about stuff. The shotgun approach. Chuck Klosterman once talked in Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs about how he believed in everything. I don't agree with him completely, but there's definitely something appealing about that; something so appealing that it just might be worth society considering you a hypocrite. Many of us have been told our whole lives that we can do anything. I've taken that to heart, and I still do. But implicit in that advice that you can do anything is the slightly condescending warning that you can't do everything.

But why not? So what if I don't study enough for the test to know exactly what the supposed "correct" answer is? It might be easier for a teacher to grade, but there's no reason we have to continue to impose those restrictions on ourselves once we leave school. What's wrong with the shotgun approach to life?

Monday, May 7, 2007

Bill Simmons picks the Jazz in 5!

He cites our inability to guard the aptly-named power forward Boozer and the apparent "wash" match-up of Baron Davis against Deron Williams as reasons why, joining many other columnists across the world that have now picked against the Warriors for the second time. Time to shock the world again, Golden State! We wouldn't have it any other way. PS, check my new facebook profile picture:

Wow, Matt Barnes is dirty. I would spend $50 for this if it were a poster with a slogan like, "this is how the Warriors would have dealt with the Germans in WWII." God I love this team.

Sunday, May 6, 2007


Everybody likes HBO's Entourage. It's a big hit here at Vassar, and just about everybody that's seen it regards it as a "good" show. But here's the thing: nobody knows why.

I too also really had no idea why I liked it, until last night, at the end of a very long day, when I heard Mims' hit "This is Why I'm Hot." One of the most famous lines is his lyric, "I don't even need to rap//I could sell a mill saying nothing on the track." That's when I realized that people like Entourage because it is the television equivalent of a cocky rapper.

Think about it. From the very first show, the show took it as granted that Vince was pretty much a massive star. Sure, he might not have busted out yet with the highest grossing film of all-time, Aquaman, but he was already successful and famous. But in reality, nobody knew who Adrian Grenier (the guy that plays Vince) was. He certainly didn't have enough cash to support a whole entourage with such a lavish lifestyle, and he certainly didn't have enough money to live in such a sweet crib. But the show pretended that he did anyways, and everybody bought it.

The same thing goes for Mims before he busted out with, "This is Why I'm Hot," which hit #1 on the iTunes most downloaded list and was once famously played 40+ times one night at one of our basketball parties. Before he recorded the song, Mims wasn't shit. Maybe he was big with his homies because he had signed on with a record label, but he certainly wasn't big enough to justify rapping that he could sell a mill without saying anything on the track. Claiming that you are big before you really are is probably the most intriguing rapping paradigm because while it's possible that they will one day make it big, they were not big when they first said it. You're betting that you will become successful. If you succeed, you'll be even more revered because you somehow knew that you would. But if you fail, you'll lose all credibility whatsoever because now are you not only not popular, but none of your songs even make sense.

Entourage went the same direction with their TV show, claiming that they were really big and just exploring the problems that an entourage would endure once they had reached that point. And here's the kicker, which explains why both of them do it: people love to hear that other people are making it. As much as America loves the underdog, what we really love to see is people having success, basking in it, and just generally living it up. We don't really care about the irony of Mims saying that he was hot before he really was, what we care about is the fact that he is hot now, he knows it, and he's loving every minute of it. Vince and his entourage are attractive for the same reasons.

This is not to say that you and I gullible for falling for the ploy, America. In fact, you could aruge that our tastes are simply now more refined. All entertainers have at least a touch of cockiness to them. Perhaps it's just that in our never-ending search for legitimacy and transparency, we're starting to like the ones who admit it.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Was I wrong with the e-mail I sent to Bill Simmons?

On some level, I can see why some people might think that I should apologize to Bill Simmons, because he ostensibly did not jinx the Warriors out of the playoffs. But really, he (and you too), should be praising me, because by unabashedly sending him that e-mail, and posting it in a public forum, I was performing an elaborate anti-jinx, whereby ensuring that the Warriors be victorious. So no, I won't apologize. And yes, you can thank me later.

And yes, I am soooooo pumped that the Warriors are in the second round.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

This is the e-mail I just sent Bill Simmons, who has been doing everything he can to make the Warriors lose

"Your talk about the Golden State Warriors this week has been the most frustrating thing ever. Could you jinx us a little bit more, please? I love your work and have read your book, but if the Warriors lose game 6 I expect an open apology and a prediction that the Mavs will win game 7 (in order to even out the jinxing), or I will start an anti-Bill Simmons blog. This is my ultimatum. Choose your next move wisely, Sports Guy."

I figured it was the least I could do. Tonights the night, America.