Archive for May, 2008

Getting smaller (and small minded?)

Fifty years ago one of the most popular magazines was named “Life.” The title alone suggested a society that looked broad and wide. Life as we knew it then was crowded, full, expansive, exhilarating.

A companion magazine to Life was “Time.” Time. Now there’s a title. Einstein himself could not have asked for a title more expansive or endless than that. Time puts us within the arc of history. It provides a context to what was, is, and will be.

Then in the 80s and 90s came a new publication.  A publication interestingly enough that was born out of “Time” magazine.  The magazine was “People.”  Apparently the publishers of “Time” found out that the most popular page in “Time” was the “People” page.  So they turned the “People” page into its own magazine.

People.  No longer was it all about the globe, the society, the trends, the ideas, the community.  No, It was the individuals, the celebrities, the rich and famous.  And if you weren’t a legitimate celebrity you could become one through a accidents (like falling down a well) that made you a celebrity for a day (or, in this case, an issue).  Your world got smaller.  It was a world not of history, movements, and ideology … it was a world of paparazzi, gawkers, show boats, egos, and pretty people that were “larger than life.”  People.  Larger than Life indeed.

I guess it was inevitable then that we ended up with this … one of the more popular magazines today … “Self.”  That’s right.  Self.  The publishers shamefully dropped the “ish” but they might just as well have kept it in the title.  It probably would have improved sales.

So we went from Life to People to … me!  Just me.  With an exclamation point.

From looking out and looking around to looking inward; from looking at our world to looking in the mirror.  It is no longer about life.  It is all about me.  From gazing at the globe to gazing at our navel.

Then came new media.

First we had the world wide web.  Now there is an expansive label. It is world wide.  I’m talking global, ubiquitous, all-inclusive all encompassing.  It casts a wide shadow.  It kindles up religious ideas of an omnipresent force.

But the world was too much to handle.  So we came up with personal web logs or blogs.   Blogs like this one. And blogs like this one are all about a platform for me to share, rant, converse, have fun.  Anybody and everybody can play.  But I’m carving out my own little community and conversation.  Indeed, I don’t want the world’s approbation.  Just my own little band of Juice Bar junkies.

Finally there was Twitter.  This is hardly a conversation.  It is digital voyeurism.  We lose the narrative.  There is no story.  There is no context save a reference point in time and place.  Indeed, there barely is thought.  Just reactions, impulses and one-liners.  A series of not-so-random images, reactions, and data points.


I’m communications and I’m melting.  I’m getting narrower, tinier, smaller.

I used to have a conversation.

Then I shouted out into the ether seeing who’d listen.

Now …

Tweet. Tweet.

Where’d all the Juice Go?

Those of you who are bellying up to the Juice Bar may have noticed that (a) the posts are fewer and more infrequent; and (b) all the historic posts along with much of the blogroll went somewhere.

Remember a month or so ago when I said that I’d gotten infected with malware?

Well, I found out that the damage was far greater than thought.  Sort like a home inspector that comes back and says your house has termites.

The malware was everywhere.  Must have been some form of malware HTML napalm.  We (that is, my colleague Ryan) tried cleaning it up.  But we found that virtually every post was tainted love.

So now I’m going throught the pain-in-the ass process of hand cleaning each post and republishing them.

Nothing but a huge time suck.

So here’s my idea.  If we have to have a Patriot Act, let’s get someone to insert a provision that the Bush Administration use these intrusive and clandestine powers to identify and track down spammers and purveyors of malware.

And that once found we send them to Guantanamo.

Or Sadr City.

Or Burma.

Why Economics Remains a Dismal Science

It has been awhile. I’ve been on “vacation”. A Dutch / American reunion of sorts.

But now I’m back and on the road again which means I read USAToday.

I find the USAToday puzzles page (last inside pages of the Life Section) ideal for take offs and landings since they don’t have an on or off switch. That is, the flight attendants aren’t pestering me about turning off the games on my BlackBerry … and USAToday has puzzles that I can actually do (as opposed to the impossible and oftentimes insipid crosswords by Will Short in the NYTimes).

So as I pulled out Tuesday’s USAToday on a flight home from Boston my eyes rested on a feature story on billionaire George Soros and the promotion of his book. Seems that George is hawking something called “reflexivity.” The relevant summary of Soros’ theory of reflexivity from the USAToday piece goes something like this …

Classic free market theory holds that everyone in an economy acts rationally, based on complete information while seeking to maximize their individual welfare or profits … To Soros, the conventional approach is rubbish. Instead of a world of near-identical actors, coolly assessing their economic interests and acting with clear-eyed precision, he sees a world (and markets) governed by passion, bias and self-reinforcing errors. Because fallible human beings are both involved in, and trying to make sense of, this world, they inevitably make mistakes. … Standard economic theory is flawed, Soros says, because it treats markets populated by thinking human beings as if they operated according to the natural laws that govern atoms and molecules.

Not surprisingly, those economists entrenched in classic rational economic theory don’t view kindly on reflexivity. According to USAToday’s David Lynch:

Critics of reflexivity, especially among the economists Soros disparages, have been brutal. A reviewer of one of his earlier books savaged his “windy amateur philosophy” and attacked him for being unfamiliar with basic economics … “It is difficult to conceive of a more mistaken understanding of the profession’s research in the last 10-15 years. … The great danger of the (earlier) book is that non-economists will take seriously his ill-founded criticism of economic research,” wrote economist Christopher Neely of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

The Juice Bar has devoted several posts to the very obvious observation that people — including me — are NOT rational. The most recent was back in February coinciding with the release of Dan Airley’s book, Predictably Irrational.

So I’m naturally inclined to be open to this “ill-founded” reflexivity theory since it appears to track with reality over theory.

Then I think to myself …

Soros has made billions of dollars using his reflexivity theory … Neely oversees billions of dollars using his rational choice economic model.  Soros is so wealthy he can’t give his money away fast enough.  The U.S. economy has lurched from crisis to crisis with the dollar in the tank and skyrocketing debt.

Who ya gonna believe?

Not surprisingly, if I had to choose on who I’d want managing my money, I think I’ll go with Soros over Governor Neely of the Federal Reserve.  That is, I’ll go with someone who recognizes that people are emotional, non-linear, and, yes, irrational beings.

And this is why economics remains a dismal science.  Because it continues to refuse to accept the emotional and wacky things that make us all human.

Now … on to the sudoku page.