Simon Cowell – still cocky after all these years

From the periodically thought-provoking Gretchen Rubin of The Happiness Project comes a link to an article by Simon Cowell: A letter to my shallow, reckless, cocky younger self. I’d rather retitle it as “A letter from my shallow, reckless, cocky older self to my shallow, reckless, cocky younger self”

While Simon thinks he’s being introspective in looking back how arrogant he used to be, he actually displays a shocking lack of self awareness in how arrogant he currently is.

He seems to want to tell his younger self: “Don’t worry about the insecurities you may have, in the end you will find out you’re superior to the idiots around you.” What he tries to present as “lessons learned from the school of hard knocks” comes across as “you were wrong to think you knew everything then, but don’t worry, once you get older, you will know everything.”

Like Gretchen Rubin, I can’t say I really know Simon, having only seen him in youtube clips filling the role of “arrogant judge” on American Idol. Gretchen, though is much kinder to him.

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Monkey see…

Courtesy of the freakonomics blog comes an article saying that monkey’s also experience the uncanny valley effect. Original science daily is here, unfortunately without video.

A wonderful youtube video made the rounds recently of a chimpanzee’s reaction to magic tricks. (may be more watchable with the sound down….)

It is interesting to see that the chimpanzee is often surprised and engaged by magic.

The interesting point of comparison is that children under 3 years old generally don’t understand magic. At that age, their perceptions and expectations of how the world works are not well formed; not understanding the laws of physics, they aren’t surprised when they are violated. This is well cited, an essay by Dave Kaye that talks about this.

Parrots can also detect magic. The charming book Becoming a Tiger: How Baby Animals Learn to Live in the Wild talks about the parrot Alex who would narrow his eyes tap his beak angrily on the table if his trainer did tricks with disappearing cashews (p320, since I went to the effort of looking it up 🙂 ).

From this, I’d conclude that chimpanzees and parrots have at least the intelligence level of a three year old child.

Obama’s Nobel

Should I write a blog post about Obama’s Nobel Prize? I don’t know if I have anything worthwhile to contribute beyond the huge amount of articles that have already been written. The Economist gives a reasonable and typical reaction.

Obama deserves credit for the progress he has made in rebuilding America’s tattered international relations. A lot of what he has achieved however, is just partial repair of the damage Bush inflicted on the US’s foreign relations. It remains to be seen how successful Obama’s approach will ultimately be. Renewed friendship with Europe has not led to significant commitments to support the war in Afghanistan and Obama’s policy in that war may end up in a quagmire. The precedents of history in both foreign involvement in Afghanistan and America’s involvement in Vietnam, don’t bode well for peace in Afghanistan. In Iraq, troop withdrawal might ultimately lead to a failed state. His stance and work towards a nuclear free world is admirable and is gaining some traction with Russia, however little progress has been seen in North Korea or Iran. His dealings with Iran have been balanced a soft touch with tough talk, but it will be many years before its clear whether his approach is the correct one.

While I support and admire Obama’s work and his positions and I do sincerely hope that he is right, there are certainly alternative more hawkish positions. It is far too early to tell to say that Obama’s approach is the right one.

There is the counter-argument that the prize is more rewarded for effort rather than results. I take this as a criticism of the Nobel Prize committee. The article cites Carter and Arafat/Rabin.  I’d rather go with the more 1973 award:  Henry Kissinger – Nobel Prize laureate; Accused war criminal.

The Nobel Prize for Peace stands in contrast to other Nobel Prizes for Literature and Physics that only make awards decades after a recipient’s work has been validated.

The reactions from the right, have been so over the top as be not worth commenting on. I thought David Frum made an interesting point, that the prize may hamper Obama.

Why women have sex

The book Why women have sex came out in the last week.

The title seems chosen by a marketing committee and while it claims to be based on new research, much of the content is based on stuff that is already well-known. For example, the notion of love as mechanism to keep your partner around long enough to raise the kids echos Helen Fisher.

Other repeated contemporary ideas are the explanations of attraction based on theories from evolutionary biology: women are attracted to men for reasons of survival and reproduction. A well muscled man will help protect you and your children from sabre-tooth tigers and rival men. Signs of high testosterone that women find appealing in men (strong jaw, deep voice) mirror signs of high oestrogen in women that men find appealing (good skin, breast-hip-weight ratio). Signs of affluence demonstrate ability to care for a women and her children.

In this context it’s all a bit frightening when one thinks of one’s own behaviour and what that signals to the world. I remember discovering colleague of mine owned a Porsche. He had a similar income to mine and while I consider a sports car an unnecessary financial extravagance, I had to admit that it was sexy. He was a nice guy, and the car did make me think of him as even cooler. I’m also sure it made him more attractive to some women. Certainly good grounds for anxiety and insecurity.

Fortunately, the authors don’t believe in pure biological determinism though. There’s a nice bit of terminology “Love map” used to describe the idiosyncratic attributes we individually find attractive. That term was new to me, although apparently it has also  been around for a while.

Some of the reviews breathlessly tell that women don’t only have sex for love. Shock! A book could be written about “Why we Eat” and go into hundreds of reasons as to why we eat, with “hunger” being just one of them. A trip to a restaurant can be seen as signalling – a celebration of an event, to mention a recent example. I have the feeling though, that books with “Sex” in the title sell more than books with “Eat”

Still, the book does seem to have more depth and may be worthwhile. The best read was Salon’s interview with the author.

Was the Sexual Revolution not all it was cracked up to be?

From the, often wonderful, Overcoming Bias comes a link to The Man Who is Thursday, who gives us his thoughts on the sexual revolution. OB gives his take from a men’s rights perspective.

It had never occurred to me that the sexual revolution was somehow forced upon women to their detriment. He apparently believes this to be a widely held view – I wish he had included a link. The argument seems to be that women are being exploited if they have sex outside of marriage. It’s quite big of him to have moved on beyond that.

I’m not fully comfortable with his apparent single dimensional scale of alpha-beta. But, say we can enumerate some combination of factors – wealth, looks, intelligence, humour – that we can rank partners on… I’ll let him off the hook on this one, although its questionable whether these all correlate with sexual performance.

If sexual performance is a criteria for a suitable mate – deciding whether someone is an alpha or beta- surely the sexual revolution is a huge step in allowing people to find out more information in advance of commitment.

Even granting his premises though, why does he then assume that alpha men are more likely to have more partners than alpha women? Further, that alpha men will sleep with beta women, but alpha women not with beta males.

So, sorry, but he contradicts himself: he comes back around to the point that the sexual revolution benefited men (at least alpha men) because of the rather out-dated notion that men only want sex and women only want to find a committed partner.

I found it interesting because the guy is apparently not a complete moron, has thought his argument through, but comes to conclusions that are completely unpalatable for me. Part of me also fears there may be some thread of truth among the BS.