Thursday, February 19, 2009

Review: NUDGE

Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness by Richard H. Thaler

This book essentially argues for a re-think of how the government and private companies design complex and important choices, such as the choice of a health care plan or a home mortgage. While the traditional free-market capitalist idea has simply been to maximize the number of options in any scenario, this design fails to recognize the limited knowledge and expertise and motivation that any given person is likely to have in the field of, say, investing for retirement.

The chief design feature for which Thaler and Sunstein argue is smarter default choices paired with the easy ability to opt out of that default and choose something else. A simple example might be the idea that employees should by default be opted-in to their company's 401k plan, with the option to opt out by filling out a very simple form. One example of a system with bad choice architecture and bad defaults was Bush's prescription drug plan, which randomly assigned non-respondents to one of several hundred plans, many of which wouldn't cover the non-respondents actual prescriptions!

Thaler and Sunstein call their choice architecture "libertarian paternalism", a cute oxymoron meant, I suspect, to confound ideological pigeon-holing. Some of their associates from U. Chicago are involved with the Obama administration, so it's possible that we may see some of these system design ideas put into practice.

I liked the book, because it's a very straight forward and quick-reading presentation of some general principles that could make the government more efficient and life better for a lot of people. It also acknowledges human beings as being essentially different from the economic textbook version of human beings, who have perfect knowledge and unlimited time in which to gain that knowledge before making any decision. Refreshing!

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Charles Brockden Brown

Arthur Mervyn Arthur Mervyn by Charles Brockden Brown

I'm a big fan of Charles Brockden Brown even if his books can sometimes be a tough slog (must-read-twice curlicues of sentences, total implausibility on every level [by today's standards, anyway:], etc.). I really enjoy reading all the crazy/horrible/salacious combinations of infanticide/rape/religious maniac/prostitute-type things he tucks into his stories, partially because I didn't think they were supposed to be acknowledged pre-1960's lit, much less pre-1800's lit! It's refreshing to know not just that people have always been flawed, but also that it's always been entertaining to other people to hear about it in as much detail as possible.

Brown's also interesting because he's one of the first significant American novelists, and you can see some of his influence on the better-known generation that followed (Hawthorne, Poe, etc.). While the later generation tends to be more refined and psychologically realistic, you can still see them wrestling with morality vs. human nature in a land that was supposed to offer a blank slate.

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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Union Square, Election Night 2008

Shortly after Barack Obama had delivered his victory speech, I walked over to Union Square. My camera ran out of batteries after I shot this, but it kept getting bigger and bigger as more and more people streamed across 14th Street...

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Mary runs the NYC Marathon

Mary sees us as she approaches North 11th Street and Bedford Avenue. This is about 10 miles into the New York City Marathon, and she's still full of energy.

(Clip from what will be a slightly longer video, once I get around to cobbling it together.)

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Walking by BAM at Night

So I was walking by the Brooklyn Academy of Music the other night-- as is not so unusual--, and I did shoot video of it-- which is slightly less common. I then decided to try out the movie editing software on my new computer, and this was all the footage I had free of my old previous computer's hard drive. So. This clip. Not that the lights at BAM wouldn't otherwise merit their own posting or whatever.

UPDATE: wow, imovie automatically convert a 4:3 video into 1:1.85 "letterbox"...(is it time to start complaining about distortion into default widescreen the way we used to hate "panned-and-scanned" VHS tapes before DVDs made proper presentation the standard?)

Monday, October 06, 2008

New Kitten ("J.C.") and Pumpkins

My sister adopted a kitten from my aunt and is for now calling her "J.C." "J.C." does not mean "Jesus Christ" but rather "Just Cat."

This is meant to be an off-the-cuff video diary entry-type thing. So: does it strike you as off-the-cuff?

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Autumn means Hawthorne

The Blithedale Romance The Blithedale Romance by Nathaniel Hawthorne

As I found with "The Scarlet Letter", this novel took a long time to get going. But I found that it very quickly became engaging from the point at which Westervelt enters the story; his entrance is the first of a number of the fascinatingly strange scenes for which I like Hawthorne.

[side note: I sometimes wonder whether the Danish director Carl Th. Dreyer had read Hawthorne. I recently saw his Day of Wrath, and was struck by how closely the feverish and obscurely allegorical atmosphere of portions of that film resemble my experience of reading Hawthorne. I also find them alike in that the works tend to be pretty boring for at least the first half...perhaps it heightens the reward when it finally -- finally-- comes?]

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Been helping Nick edit together this video...

...of his mechanical instruments performing a cover song for a contest.