aTypical Joe: a gay New Yorker living in the rural South
Friday, March 23, 2007
Damn Cool Canyon
At a damn high price:
The Grand Canyon Skywalk is a tourist attraction, commissioned by the Hualapai Indian tribe, to be opened to the public on March 28, 2007, along the Colorado River on the edge of the Grand Canyon in the U.S. state of Arizona. The Skywalk will be charging $25 per person in addition to other entry fees.
The glass bridge is suspended 4,000 feet (1 219 meters) above the canyon. The bridge’s walls and floor are built of glass 4 inches (10.2 cm) thick. The horseshoe shaped bridge protrudes 65 (20 meters) feet from the edge of the canyon. The Skywalk is able to hold 70 tons of weight, allowing for 800 people weighing 175 lbs. (80 kg) each to stand on the bridge. The allowed capacity, though, will be limited to only 120 persons. All visitors will be provided with shoe covers to protect them from slipping and to prevent scratching of the glass floor.
Hillary 1984 whodunit: How Arianna Unmasked De Vellis
While the rest of media was tripping over themselves to do the same story of the Hillary ad, weeks after it came out, and idly wondering who made it, Arianna dispatched her troops to do real reporting. She said about 30 people were involved at first, making phone calls and digging into what they knew, debunking some leads and following others. Finally, it came down to contacts and a little technology. Arianna said that YouTube revealed nothing about the video’s maker or his account. But the guy apparently left some turkey tracks with his email. And a Huffpo person knew someone who knew someone — and so on — who confirmed the identity of the mysterious video man, Phil De Vellis.
Then Arianna called him. She said he was genuinely surprised and thought he would never be unmasked. She offered him the chance to write a post about what he did and why. After some delay — when he apparently dealt with his employers and become a former employee — he came back and delivered that post.
Arianna is admiring of him. She said he put out a message without any desire for fame. She says he told no lies in the ad.
I look at it differently. I think he hid, the chicken, behind online anonymity. It’s also quite possible that he did his man Obama no favors, as some will think the candidate made this and will think less of him for starting the attacks so early.
But Arianna and I agree that the campaigns, which are all about control, are going to be less and less in control as more people use YouTube and the internet to get their own messages out.
I’m glad to see Jeff critical of De Villis - I quite agree he did Obama no favors. He may even have helped Hillary. He was a paid political operator acting unprofessionally outside of his job; he deserved to be fired.
Yes, yes, yes, he has his freedom of speech. And Blue State Digital has freedom to fire. I wold think he hurt them most.
As to any selfless political expression power-to-the-people points he made, I don’t quite see it. I see this particular “citizen” as particularly well-connected, well-trained and well-equipped.
The rest of us are heading there, but we’re not there yet.
In The New Republic, Cass R. Sunstein & Richard H. Thaler review Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think by Brian Wansink. Their review, The Survival of the Fattest, is behind a pay wall. An important piece, I quote liberally.
The initial problem is that if we see food, we are likely to eat it, even if we aren’t hungry. People tend to eat whatever is put in front of them. Wansink demonstrates this point through a series of somewhat mischievous experiments, some of which would have been great material for Candid Camera. A few years ago, moviegoers in Chicago found themselves with a free bucket of popcorn. Unfortunately, the popcorn was stale; it had been popped five days earlier and stored so as to ensure that it would actually squeak when eaten. People were not specifically informed of its staleness, but they didn’t love the popcorn. As one moviegoer said, “It was like eating Styrofoam packing peanuts.”
As the experiment was designed, about half of the moviegoers received a big bucket of popcorn and half received a medium-sized bucket. After the movie, Wansink asked the recipients of the big bucket whether they might have eaten more because of the size of their bucket. Most denied the possibility, saying, “Things like that don’t trick me.” But they were wrong. On average, recipients of the big bucket ate about 53 percent more popcorn--even though they didn’t really like it.
Another experiment required some special equipment. People sat down to a large bowl of Campbell’s tomato soup and were told to eat as much as they wanted. Unbeknown to them, the soup bowls were designed to refill themselves (with empty bottoms connected to machinery beneath the table). No matter how much soup the subjects ate, the bowl never emptied. Many people just kept eating until the experiment was (mercifully) ended.
The general rule seems to be, “Give them a lot, and they eat a lot.” Those who receive large bowls of ice cream eat much more than those who get small bowls. If you are given a half-pound bag of M&M’s, chances are that you will eat about half as much as you will if you are given a one-pound bag. The reason is simple: packages “suggest a consumption norm--what it is appropriate or normal to use or eat.” In fact, most people do not stop eating when they are no longer hungry. They look to whether their glasses or plates are empty.
The name game:
Names matter a lot. “Traditional Cajun Red Beans With Rice” is far more popular than “Red Beans with Rice.” You might well order “Home-Style Chicken Parmesan,” even if you would turn up your nose at mere “Chicken Parmesan.” People aren’t terribly enthusiastic about “Zucchini Cookies,” but they will happily eat “Grandma’s Zucchini Cookies.” Not only are people more likely to ask for, and to eat, appealingly named dishes; they will also rate those dishes as tastier. Those who have had restaurant items with the foregoing names are more likely to describe their meals as “great” or “fantastic.” The right names for dishes can even produce more enthusiastic attitudes toward restaurants as a whole, leading people to characterize them as “trendy and up-to-date.” Wansink thinks that if restaurants without particularly good food seek to increase sales, they might choose from a range of effective labels, including the geographic ("Kansas City Barbeque"), the nostalgic ("Classic Old-World Manicotti"), and the sensory ("Hearty Sizzling Steaks"). In this way, Wansink helps to systematize what savvy advertisers already know.
Wansink’s lesson is that “we taste what we expect we’ll taste.” To support this claim, he notes that in the dark, people are willing to believe that chocolate yogurt is strawberry yogurt--and apparently to enjoy it just as if it were strawberry. A military chef found himself with a group of sailors who were tired of eating lemon Jell-O and insisted on getting their favorite flavor, which was cherry. Not having any such Jell-O, he colored lemon-flavored Jell-O red--and the sailors ate it happily. Indeed, even many wine connoisseurs cannot tell the difference between red and white wine when the wine is served in dark, opaque stemware.
Social influences also have a large impact. An especially good way to gain weight is to have dinner with other people. On average, those who eat with one other person eat about 35 percent more than they do when they are alone; members of a group of four eat about 75 percent more; those in groups of seven or more eat 96 percent more. We are also greatly influenced by consumption norms within the relevant group. A light eater eats much more in a group of heavy eaters. A heavy eater will show more restraint in a light-eating group. The group average thus exerts a significant influence. But there are gender differences as well. Women often eat less on dates; men tend to eat a lot more, apparently with the belief that women are impressed by a lot of manly eating. (Note to men: they aren’t.)
Awareness is the first step:
Social influences have a powerful influence in many domains; they greatly affect decisions about how much to drink, whether to stay in school, to bring lawsuits, to take precautions against natural disasters, to support a particular political campaign, to make charitable contributions, and to commit crimes...Much of the time, it is sensible to use those cues. The problem is that Wansink, advertisers, restaurants, and other savvy people can manufacture cues to manipulate us in their preferred directions.
But there is some good news here. As Wansink shows, awareness of our vulnerability to manipulation can provide a degree of inoculation against it. If we want to lose weight, we can insist on small portions, split a main course with our dining partner, aim to eat less than our friends at social occasions, and feel bemused, rather than seduced, by attractively named foods or unnecessarily large portions.
Thaler and Sunstein draw far greater lessons:
The same point holds for government programs involving Social Security, prescription drugs, discrimination, health care, poverty relief, the environment, and much more. Many of these programs ask citizens to make choices while also offering confusing, distressing, or bad signals… Armed with an awareness of the power of contextual cues, many people have been exploring new forms of paternalism, sometimes called “weak” or “thin” or (our preferred term) “libertarian.” The central idea behind libertarian paternalism is that it is often possible for decision architects to steer people toward better decisions (as judged by the decision-makers themselves, not the architects) without restricting freedom of choice.
Via James Joyner, “This is interesting stuff, which undermines the notion that people always make informed choices. Sometimes, we operate on auto-pilot.”
I hope that comment suggests some sympathy for the Libertarian Paternalism argument.