“Marriage is Not a Political Act; It’s a Human One.”

A beautiful, must-read reflection from Andrew Sullivan following today’s Supreme Court decisions on marriage equality:

Marriage is not a political act; it’s a human one. It is based on love, before it is rooted in law. Same-sex marriages have always existed because the human heart has always existed in complicated, beautiful and strange ways. But to have them recognized by the wider community, protected from vengeful relatives, preserved in times of illness and death, and elevated as a responsible, adult and equal contribution to our common good is a huge moment in human consciousness. It has happened elsewhere. But here in America, the debate was the most profound, lengthy and impassioned. This country’s democratic institutions made this a tough road but thereby also gave us the chance and time to persuade the country, which we did. I understand and respect those who in good conscience fought this tooth and nail. I am saddened by how many failed to see past elaborate, ancient codes of conduct toward the ultimate good of equal human dignity…

 

 

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The Most Intellectual Jokes Reddit Knows

This is a great thread on Reddit: the best intellectual jokes the members of the site know.

Here are three of my favorites:

1) It’s hard to explain puns to kleptomaniacs because they always take things literally.

The response is equally awesome: “I don’t get it but I’m stealing this one.” 

2) Q: What does the “B” in Benoit B. Mandelbrot stand for?

A: Benoit B. Mandelbrot.

3) Two chemists walk into a bar. The first says, “Can I have a glass of H2O.”

The second chemist says “Can I have a glass of water too.”

The first chemist broke down in tears – his assassination attempt had failed.

I also enjoyed the counterresponse to this joke:

A photon checks into a hotel and the bellhop asks him if he has any luggage. The Photon replies “No I’m traveling light”. One redditor’s response: “

I object to this on the grounds that photons experience no time within their own reference frame and therefore could not possibly respond. The best they could do is give a wave.”

Lots more nerdery here.

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(hat tip: @legalnomads

Google Brain Teasers Useless for Hiring

This is an interesting interview with Laszlo Bock, senior VP of operations at Google, and the disclosure of some hiring findings at the company.

This is a revelation, and I would bet it is similar across various industries:

Years ago, we did a study to determine whether anyone at Google is particularly good at hiring. We looked at tens of thousands of interviews, and everyone who had done the interviews and what they scored the candidate, and how that person ultimately performed in their job. We found zero relationship. It’s a complete random mess, except for one guy who was highly predictive because he only interviewed people for a very specialized area, where he happened to be the world’s leading expert.

And finally, an admission that those brain teasers are useless in hiring!

A. On the hiring side, we found that brainteasers are a complete waste of time. How many golf balls can you fit into an airplane? How many gas stations in Manhattan? A complete waste of time. They don’t predict anything. They serve primarily to make the interviewer feel smart.

On Coffee and Creativity

I’ve been drinking one to two cups of coffee in the mornings over the last few months. But as Maria Konnikova explains, I shouldn’t expect the caffeine to boost my creativity:

When we drink a caffeinated beverage, the caffeine quickly crosses the blood-brain barrier—an interface of sorts between the brain and the body’s circulatory system, designed to protect the central nervous system from chemicals in the blood that might harm it—and proceeds to block the activity of a substance called adenosine. Normally, a central function of adenosine is to inhibit the release of various chemicals into the brain, lowering energy levels and promoting sleep, among other regulatory bodily functions. When it’s blocked, we’re less likely to fall asleep on our desks or feel our focus drifting. According to a recent review of some hundred studies, caffeine has a number of distinct benefits. Chief among them are that it boosts energy and decreases fatigue; enhances physical, cognitive, and motor performance; and aids short-term memory, problem solving, decision making, and concentration.

But all of that comes at a cost. Science is only beginning to unravel the full complexity behind different forms of creative accomplishment; creativity is notoriously difficult to study in a laboratory setting, and the choice of one approach over another limits the way that creativity can be measured. Still, we do know that much of what we associate with creativity—whether writing a sonnet or a mathematical proof—has to do with the ability to link ideas, entities, and concepts in novel ways. This ability depends in part on the very thing that caffeine seeks to prevent: a wandering, unfocussed mind.

Bummer!

Jedi Academy: The Most Beautiful Ruined Moment

Sharon Kay Edwards, in a post titled “The Most Beautiful Ruined Moment” recounts her vacation at Hollywood Studios with her autistic son by penning a letter to a kind, noble Jedi Master. This story made me tear up.

Josiah, look at me, please. Look at me. Good. Listen to me. Are your ears on? Good. That lady is going to ask you how old you are. Do you know how old you are? Eight! That’s right! Now, you HAVE  talk to her, OK? I mean it, sweetie. When she talks to you, you talk back, or she won’t let you fight Darth Vader.” He never gave any sign of recognition, but I hoped that he understood. We’ve been working on appropriate conversation skills for months now, and I was counting on that therapy to kick in high gear for him in this moment.

It’s our turn! Here we go.

“Hello and good morning!” Said a bright and cheery Disney cast member to Josiah. (They are ALL bright and cheery.) “Are you ready to battle the Dark Side?”

“Yes.” Josiah mumbled.

Oh my God! He talked to her!

“Good! We need brave Jedis like you. How old are you?”

Josiah hesitated. She asked him again. I was about to answer for him when he said, “I eight.”

Yes!

“Eight. That’s great! Now, can you follow directions?”

Josiah blinked at her.

“If I told you to raise your hands, what would you…Good!”

Josiah had risen his hands up high before she finished her question.

Because of this miracle of a “conversation” we were able to secure two spots for both of our kids in the 8:00 show. (our daughter decided she wanted to be a Jedi too) Perfect! This is going to be something they’ll remember their entire life!

See if you can read the whole thing without crying. Beautiful and heart-warming.

On Knowing What Others Think about You

In a piece titled “I Know What You Think of Me,” Tim Kreider eloquently considers our bias in overestimating our abilities and positive qualities versus what others really think of us. It’s a must-read.

 Hearing other people’s uncensored opinions of you is an unpleasant reminder that you’re just another person in the world, and everyone else does not always view you in the forgiving light that you hope they do, making all allowances, always on your side. There’s something existentially alarming about finding out how little room we occupy, and how little allegiance we command, in other people’s heads. 

Just as teasing someone to his face is a way of letting him know that you know him better than he thinks, making fun of him behind his back is a way of bonding with your mutual friends, reassuring one another that you both know and love and are driven crazy by this same person.

Although sometimes, let’s just admit, we’re simply being mean. A friend of mine described the time in high school when someone walked up behind her while she was saying something clever at that person’s expense as the worst feeling she had ever had — and not just because of the hurt she’d inflicted on someone else but because of what it forced her to see about herself. That she made fun of people all the time, people who didn’t deserve it, who were beneath her in the social hierarchy, just to ingratiate herself or make herself seem funny or cool.

Another friend once shared with me one of the aphorisms of 12-step recovery programs: “What other people think of you is none of your business.” Like a lot of wisdom, this sounds at first suspiciously similar to idiotic nonsense; obviously what other people think of you is your business, it’s your main job in life to try to control it, to do tireless P.R. and spin control for yourself. Every woman who ever went out with you must pine for you forever. Those who rejected you must regret it. You must be loved, respected — above all, taken seriously! They who mocked you will rue the day! The problem is that this is insane — the psychology of dictators who regard all dissent as treason, and periodically order purges to ensure unquestioning loyalty. It’s no way to run a country.

THE operative fallacy here is that we believe that unconditional love means not seeing anything negative about someone, when it really means pretty much the opposite: loving someone despite their infuriating flaws and essential absurdity. “Do I want to be loved in spite of?” Donald Barthelme writes in his story “Rebecca” about a woman with green skin. “Do you? Does anyone? But aren’t we all, to some degree?”

This is a key paragraph:

We don’t give other people credit for the same interior complexity we take for granted in ourselves, the same capacity for holding contradictory feelings in balance, for complexly alloyed affections, for bottomless generosity of heart and petty, capricious malice. We can’t believe that anyone could be unkind to us and still be genuinely fond of us, although we do it all the time.

I’m reminded of this line from The Fountain, which I read earlier this year. In a private encounter with Howard Roark, the hero of the novel, Ellsworth Toohey asks Howard:

Mr. Roark, we’re alone here. Why don’t you tell me what you think of me? In any words you wish. No one will hear us.

Roark responds:

But I don’t think of you.

On a book note, I can’t recommend Richard Feynman’s What Do You Care What Other People Think? highly enough.

A Brief Profile of Bill Nye the Science Guy

A lovely, colorful profile of “Bill Nye the Science Guy” in this week’s New York Times:

Mr. Nye had come to talk to them, and a few thousand of their friends, at Iowa State University. If he were a politician, college students would be his base. Instead, he is something more: a figure from their early days in front of the family TV, a beloved teacher and, more and more these days, a warrior for science. They, in turn, are his fans, his students and his army.

They have gone from watching him explain magnetism and electricity to defending the scientific evidence for climate change, the age of the earth and other issues they have seen polemicized for religious, political and even economic reasons.

He takes on those who would demand that the public schools teach alternative theories of evolution and the origins of the earth — most famously, in a video clip from the site BigThink.com that has been viewed some five million times. In it, he flatly tells adult viewers that “if you want to deny evolution and live in your world — in your world that’s completely inconsistent with everything we observe in the universe — that’s fine. But don’t make your kids do it, because we need them. We need scientifically literate voters and taxpayers for the future.”

This was a great piece of trivia:

He tried his hand at stand-up comedy — his first time onstage was during a Steve Martin look-alike competition, which he won.

When I was in my early teens, Bill’s science program was one of my favorites! It’s great to see him stay such a strong advocate for science (while at the same time pushing back on the ultra-religious folks):

The earth’s not 4,000, 6,000, 10,000 years old…I’ve got no problem with anybody’s religion. But if you go claiming the earth is only 10,000 years old, that’s just wrong.

Go Bill!