Blind Spot: Why We Fail to Do What’s Right and What to Do about It

From Harvard Magazine:

Cover Could the financial crisis have been solved by giving all individuals involved more ethics training? If the training resembled that which has historically and is currently being used, the answer to that question is no. Ethics interventions have failed and will continue to fail because they are predicated on a false assumption: that individuals recognize an ethical dilemma when it is presented to them. Ethics training presumes that emphasizing the moral components of decisions will inspire executives to choose the moral path. But the common assumption this training is based on—that executives make explicit trade-offs between behaving ethically and earning profits for their organizations—is incomplete. This paradigm fails to acknowledge our innate psychological responses when faced with an ethical dilemma.Findings from the emerging field of behavioral ethics—a field that seeks to understand how people actually behave when confronted with ethical dilemmas—offer insights that can round out our understanding of why we often behave contrary to our best ethical intentions. Our ethical behavior is often inconsistent, at times even hypocritical. Consider that people have the innate ability to maintain a belief while acting contrary to it. Moral hypocrisy occurs when individuals’ evaluations of their own moral transgressions differ substantially from their evaluations of the same transgressions committed by others.

More here.

Top six India-Pakistan thrillers

From the Hindustan Times:

ScreenHunter_03 Mar. 29 13.46 India and Pakistan have played 119 one-day internationals in more than three decades. Here's a look at six memorable matches ahead of Wednesday's World Cup semi-final in Mohali:

March 22, 1985 | Sharjah India won by 38 runs – Pakistani paceman Imran Khan had virtually put his team in a winning position when he grabbed 6-14 off 10 overs to bowl India out for a paltry 125 in a Four-Nations Cup match. But India, led by fast bowler Kapil Dev (3-17), dismissed Pakistan for 87 to clinch a low-scoring thriller.

April 18, 1986 | Sharjah Pakistan won by one wicket – The match will always be remembered for Pakistani batsman Javed Miandad's last-ball match-winning six off Indian seamer Chetan Sharma. Pakistan needed four runs to win off the last delivery before Miandad (116 not out) broke Indian hearts with one memorable blow.

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Tuesday Poem

The Boat

Maybe the eyes of a dragon or goddess
glare from its prow.

More likely it leaks, loses an oar,
and reeks of rainbows awash on a sheen
of gutted salmon and gasoline.

If it’s a liner, we lash ourselves
to whatever will float or sell.

No matter which. We choose. We’re aboard,
icebergs or no, as we plow
through the songs of the siren stars—

one boat, black water, dark whispering below.

by Paul Fisher

All roads lead to Mohali for “mother of all contests”

ScreenHunter_02 Mar. 29 13.20

From Dawn:

NEW DELHI: A tiny north Indian city has overnight become a hottest tourist destination, drawing Prime Ministers, corporate czars, showbiz celebrities and passionate fans for what is touted as the “mother of all cricket contests”.

Nothing gets bigger in this part of the globe than a cricket match featuring India and Pakistan, who fought three wars since their independence from Britain in 1947.

The rivalry would be renewed in Wednesday’s World Cup semi-final in Mohali in the state of Punjab and the city administration is already bracing for a logistical nightmare. Many government and cricket officials fear the match could be a potential tinderbox given the emotions involved and some have urged the fans and the media not to hype what is essentially a cricket contest.

“It’s like any other match. The media hype around the match, I think, is totally unnecessary,” Pakistan team manager Intikhab Alam told CNN-IBN channel.

“We have come here to play cricket. This is not war field or anything. I’m sure you will see a great game of cricket,” said the former Pakistan captain, who has coached the Punjab team in Ranji trophy.

Even South African all-rounder Jacques Kallis hoped the high-profile match would pass without anything untoward.

More here.

The Anti-Predictor

From Scientific American:

Duncan-watts-book_1 Early in his new book, Everything Is Obvious: *Once You Know the Answer (Crown Business, 2011), Duncan Watts tells a story about the late sociologist Paul Lazarsfeld, who once described an intriguing research result: Soldiers from a rural background were happier during World War II than their urban comrades. Lazarsfeld imagined that on reflection people would find the result so self-evident that it didn't merit an elaborate study, because everyone knew that rural men were more used to grueling labor and harsh living standards. But there was a twist, the study he described showed the opposite pattern; it was urban conscripts who had adjusted better to wartime conditions. The rural effect was a pedagogical hoax designed to expose our uncanny ability to make up retrospective explanations for what we already believed to be true. Though Lazarsfeld was writing 60 years ago, 20/20 hindsight is still very much with us. Contemporary psychologists call this tendency to view the past as more predictable than it actually was “the hindsight bias.” Watts, a Yahoo! Labs scientist best known for his research on social networks and his earlier book, Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age (W. W. Norton, 2003), argues that this tendency is a greatly underappreciated problem, one that not only causes us to make up just-so stories to explain any conceivable outcome—but to delude ourselves that we can predict the future by learning from the past. (Just because we can create a plausible account of why a book became a bestseller doesn't mean we can tell which new book will be a hit.)

Predictability is elusive because randomness holds much more sway than most of us would like to believe. Drawing on his own research, Watts shows that messages on Twitter don't spread through a predictable set of influential hubs. Similarly, when you ask large numbers of people to relay an e-mail to a stranger through someone they know, there turn out to be no star intermediaries through whom most e-mails find their way. “When we hear about a large forest fire, we don't think that there must have been anything special about the spark that started it,” Watts wrote. “Yet when we see something special happen in the social world, we are instantly drawn to the idea that whoever started it must have been special also.”

More here.

The Ethics of David Foster Wallace

Leland de la Durantaye in the Boston Review:

Durantaye_36_2_david_foster_wallace Ships as far as the eye can see. The rising sun glittering on the Aegean. Wind rippling the sails, water lapping the bows, fear, excitement, vengeance, glory, the favor of the gods, the order contemplated, the order given.

Or, expressed differently:

Since obviously under any analysis I have to do either O or O´ (since O´ is not-O), that is, since □(O v O´); and since by (I-4) it is either not possible that I do O or not possible that I do O´, (~◊O v ~◊O´), which is equivalent to (~◊~~O v ~◊~O), which is equivalent to (□~O v □O), we are left with □ (□O v □~O); so that it is necessary that whatever I do, O or O´, I do necessarily, and cannot do otherwise.

Both of these remarks are about fate and free will, necessity and contingency. The first is the scene Aristotle sets; the second is David Foster Wallace’s reformulation of it in his exceptionally promising, and sole, contribution to technical philosophy: his senior honors thesis, newly published in a volume entitled Fate, Time, and Language: An Essay on Free Will.

In On Interpretation Aristotle defends a view about fate, free will, necessity, and contingency that is at once logical, metaphysical, and naval:

A sea battle must either take place tomorrow or not, but it is not necessary that it should take place tomorrow, neither is it necessary that it should not take place, yet it is necessary that it either should or should not take place tomorrow.

This seems clear enough, and is. Nothing in Aristotle’s example is necessary except that something take place or not take place; a sea battle, after all, cannot both happen and not happen. But what of the metaphysical implications of this logical necessity? How should we speak of contingency and potentiality, if such things truly exist? Is the general free to give the order for battle, or is all foreordained to happen, fixed in future place by natural law and supernatural will?

More here.

Middle Eastern upheaval and the promise of American life

Rochelle Gurstein in The New Republic:

New%20Image_21 When the inspiring images of hundreds of thousands of Egyptian men and women demanding their freedom at enormous personal risk first appeared and everybody was talking about whether that revolution would spark similar revolutions in nearby countries, I found myself saying to friends, “What about here? Maybe the example of their courageous actions will shake the American people out of their long apathetic stupor.” Inevitably I was met with laughter. Sometimes I felt a friend's laughter was conspiratorial—the exhilaration of imagining together that things could be different from what they are. Other times, I knew it was a response to what a friend found absurd, ridiculous, in my proposition. “We already had our revolution in 1776. Sure, things are bad, people are out of work, but we're not living in a police state like Egypt. I don't see you out on the street.” And then there were the times when the laughter sounded nervous, a friend made uncomfortable by such talk, insisting that it couldn't happen here. I reminded these skeptical/cynical/realist friends (take your pick) that no one imagined that revolutions could happen in Tunisia or in Egypt and certainly not through the highly disciplined tactics of non-violent resistance. Or that the Soviet Union would collapse or that the Berlin Wall would be dismantled.

More here.

For Pakistan and India, war is actually just cricket by other means

My friend Feisal Naqvi came up with the brilliant observation that is the title of this post. Here's more on one of the most anticipated cricket matches of all time (the Indian prime minister has invited his Pakistani counterpart to attend and he has accepted), from Dileep Premachandran in Dawn:

ScreenHunter_01 Mar. 29 08.42 The numbers suggest a Pakistan win. After all, they’ve beaten India 17 of 26 times on Indian soil. They’ve also won the two previous encounters at Mohali, chasing down 321 to win in November 2007. Cricketing logic though suggests an Indian success. By late March, most subcontinent pitches are tired, slow and lifeless. There won’t be much turn and the ball’s unlikely to come on to the bat. In such conditions, the stronger batting side usually wins. In this case, that’s India, with a top seven all capable of run-a-ball hundreds.

But when it comes to such intense rivalries, numbers and logic mean nothing. It’s invariably about which team can keep composure in tight situations. Often, it’s the experienced hands that experience the most tremors. In 1996, Waqar Younis’s final spell and Aamer Sohail’s focus on the verbals cost Pakistan dearly. In 2003, it was one over from Shoaib Akhtar that caused a huge momentum shift India’s way.

Pakistan have enjoyed plenty of success with spin in this competition but against India, it might be wiser to strengthen the pace options. Bringing back Shoaib is a gamble and if the team management is reluctant to, they could do worse than blood Junaid Khan. Mohammad Amir’s dismissal of Tendulkar at the Champions Trophy in 2009 illustrated the value of unleashing a young and hungry player in a big game.

Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir certainly won’t treat Afridi’s bowling with the deference that other teams have and if the Indians get away to a flyer, Pakistan cannot afford to unravel as they did in the final stages against New Zealand. If this Indian line- up has shown an Achilles Heel, it’s been in pushing on after fabulous starts.

More here.

When Buildings Stopped Talking to God

by Justin E. H. Smith

The peace of God is higher than all our reason.

Having recently read Sheldon Pollock's astoundingly good book, The Language of the Gods in the World of Men: Sanskrit, Culture, and Power in Premodern India, I've been thinking a good deal about his distinction between the process of 'literization', on the one hand, and that of 'literarization' on the other. I don't have the book with me, and I don't want to misrepresent his account, but as I recall according to him in South Asia it was very common to find Sanskrit inscriptions on monuments in regions where it took several subsequent centuries for a proper Sanskrit literature to appear: epic poems and so on. Inscriptions on buildings and monuments may thus be seen as a first stage of literate civilization (with, I suppose –independently of Pollock– other strands of full literacy, such as record-keeping, and the use of units of measurement, developing in other spheres of the same society).

One problematic aspect of the spread of Sanskrit inscriptions, which eventually extended through much of Southeast Asia, even as far as the island of Java in Indonesia, is that often they appeared completely independently of any subsequent process of Sanskrit literarization. In Cambodia, in particular, Sanskrit inscriptions were abundant for several centuries, even though the rest of the culture remained entirely Khmer (though with a high percentage of Sanskrit loan-words in the Khmer language). An intepretative problem consequently arose among Indologists in the 20th century as to what these inscriptions were for. If I recall correctly, Pollock challenges what had been until then the prevailing view, that these were inscriptions for the gods, that their being written was not conceived as a communication of information to fellow humans, but was conceived somewhat more like an inscriptional equivalent of prayer. (Of course, much writing until the modern period had this character. Scandinavian runes are an obvious example; a survival of this sort of writing can be seen in the 'prayer notes' that Jews place in the Western Wall of Old Jerusalem.)

Now this is as close as I am ever going to get to holding forth on what is called the 'philosophy of architecture' –a subject for which I've always disavowed any interest–, but it seems to me that beyond inscriptions there are a number of ways in which early monuments were made to speak to the gods through hidden messages, through built-in elements that could not be seen from the outside, but that nonetheless were held to charge the construction with a different sort of spirit than any externally identical, mere arrangement of stones could have. The most obvious example of this is the insertion of sacrificed bodies between building stones, a common Mesoamerican practice: bodies which would eventually turn to skeletons, invisible to all who enter, even if they know the bones are there, and they know that the gods know.

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A skeptic’s guide to reincarnation

by Hartosh Singh Bal

IMG_1768 The Karmapa sits cross-legged on a throne facing several rows of monks, mostly Tibetan and male, arrayed on the floor according to rank. The rows behind the monks are the lay deity, most Western and female, gathered here to hear him preach during his annual sojourn at Sarnath, just a few miles from Benares. A life-size picture of the Dalai Lama looks down on him, above and beyond golden against the vivid blue, yellow and oranges of the murals on the monastery walls a giant statue of the Buddha dwarfs them both.

He is speaking at the Vajra meditation centre, across the road from the centre is the boundary wall of the deer park where the Budha first preached the dhamma almost 2,500 years ago. I am in the audience because a series of ham-handed interventions by the state government of Himachal Pradesh, the state where the Dalai Lama has dwelt in India after his flight from Tibet in 1959, have managed to rather implausibly brand the Karmapa a Chinese spy, the others in the audience, pained as they are by the charges, are here because they believe the 26-year-old seated before them is seventeenth in the line of reincarnations that date back to the first Karmapa born in 1110.

Since then, they believe, each Karmapa has left a message foretelling where he would be reborn, and senior Lamas of the Kagyu sect (one of the four important schools of Tibetan Buddhism including the Dalai Lama’s Gelug school that attained political power in Tibet in the seventeenth century with some help from the Mongols) have set out in search each time a Karmapa has died. The idea became central to Tibetan Buddhism and was slowly imitated by other schools. The Dalai Lama lineage starts hundreds of years later, which is why the current Dalai Lama is but the fourteenth in the chain of reincarnations.

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Pakistan: Failed state or Weimar Republic?

by Omar Ali

800px-50_millionen_mark_1_september_1923 I recently wrote an article with this title that was triggered by a comment from a friend in Pakistan. He wrote that Pakistan felt to him like the Weimar Republic: An anarchic and poorly managed democracy with some real freedoms and an explosion of artistic creativity, but also with a dangerous fascist ideology attracting more and more adherents as people tire of economic hardship and social disorder and yearn for a savior. While the Weimar comparison was new to me, the “failed state” tag is now commonplace and many commentators have described Pakistan as either a failed state or a failing state. So which is it? Is Pakistan the Weimar republic of the day or is it a failed state? For my initial answer, you can read the article in the News, but when that article was circulated among friends, it triggered some feedback that the blog format allows me to use as a hook for some further discussion and clarification.

Some friends disagreed with my contention that Weimar Germany was too different to be a useful comparison. Germany and Pakistan may indeed be apples and (very underdeveloped) oranges, but the point of the analogy was that the current artistic and creative ferment in Pakistan is not sustainable and just as the Weimar Republic fell to fascism (not to state collapse), Pakistan’s current anarchic spring is a prelude to fascism.

It’s a fair point, but I think the crucial difference between Pakistan and Weimar Germany that I should have highlighted is the decentralized and broken up nature of the polity, with so many competing power centers that it is very hard to imagine a relatively modern fascist takeover (which, I assume, is the danger we are being warned against).

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What Remains

By Jenny White


My grandmother’s kitchen had a single window that flung open in one great wing of glass. It looked out over the tiled roof of the apartment building in which she lived, down onto the slices of soil allotted to each resident, then into the valley beyond where a church steeple rose from the heart of the district. Over by the river, vineyards clambered up steep hillsides, their flinty soil the source of Franconia’s famously dry wines. Unlike her neighbor who let his allotment run to grass, my grandmother’s garden was neatly divided into beds that alternated flowers and vegetables. A rabbit hutch, much used during the war, now housed tools. A metal drum acted as a well, filled by a tap rising up mysteriously from the soil. When I submerged the tin watering can, it gulped the water, becoming heavier and heavier as it filled. Hauling the full can at last from beneath the surface of the water was both difficult and satisfying. Above the garden fence, you could see the back of the grade school I attended and through the big mullioned windows watch the children on the climbing bars in the gymnasium. The view in spring was partially blocked by a radiantly blooming cherry tree that my grandmother had planted when her youngest daughter was born fifty years earlier — after the war, when joy might have seemed appropriate again. Pigeons gathered on the tiles before my grandmother’s window to eat the crumbs of stale bread she spread for them. They murmured and cooed, their toes skittering on the clay.

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What Do We Deserve?

By Namit Arora

Cole I often think of the good life I have. By most common measures—say, type of work, income, health, leisure, and social status—I’m doing well. Despite the adage, ‘call no man happy until he is dead’, I wonder no less often: How much of my good life do I really deserve? Why me and not so many others?

The dominant narrative has it that I was a bright student, worked harder than most, and competed fairly to gain admission to an Indian Institute of Technology, where my promise was recognized with financial aid from a U.S. university. When I took a chance after graduate school and came to Silicon Valley, I was justly rewarded for my knowledge and labor with a measure of financial security and social status. While many happily accept this narrative, my problem is that I don’t buy it. I believe that much of my socioeconomic station in life was not realized by my own doing, but was accidental or due to my being in the right place at the right time.

A pivotal question in market-based societies is ‘What do we deserve?’ In other words, for our learning, natural talents, and labor, what rewards and entitlements are just? How much of what we bring home is fair or unfair, and why? To chase these questions is to be drawn into the thickets of political philosophy and theories of justice. In this short essay, inspired by American political philosopher Michael Sandel’s Justice, I have tried to synthesize a few thoughts on the matter by reviewing three major approaches to distributive economic justice: libertarian, meritocratic, and egalitarian, undermining en route the dominant narrative on my own well-being.

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Going up a hill

by Haider Shahbaz

The first was happy to observe. The second wanted to create. The third was always mimicking. The first one, Mike, tall and thin with bushy Jewish hair was wrapped in a blanket that reminded you of your last LSD trip: colourful, torn and full of bunnies. The second, Dario, with his round face, generous smile and serious eyes was in a tweed coat. Of course, he was in a tweed coat. The third, Danyal, singing and smoking, creating rap songs from conversations, was wearing sandals and a huge shawl. He liked to show that he was ethnic. They were walking – walking on roads that led nowhere. That led from night to day and day to night.

“I can’t believe I’m doing this. I still have to finish the essay that was due last week.”

“Calm down. You’re always panicking about work. It’s your American blood. Do you still have some of Tony’s stuff left?”

“Yeah I brought it with me. We’ll smoke it when we get up there.”

Danyal, in the background, was rapping. He knew Mike too well. He always complains. He makes a resolution every morning, only to meet Tony that night, or a bottle of cheap rum. And then, ends up with ugly chicks. Just like that girl last week who he met in a party when he was horny and drunk and admittedly insecure. She was ugly; he knew it. Damn it, he knew it.

“Will you stop that?”

Dario didn’t like rapping. He only liked Rilke. And sometimes, Dadaists and Mayakovsky too, when he had to pretend he wasn’t attached to the canon and Harold Bloom as much as he was. But nothing got him more excited than talk of modernity and post-modernity and other such dangerous passions.

“Okay Okay. Chill. So what’s our plan?”

“We’re going up that small hill. It should take us about an hour. We’ll watch the sunrise and then come back and sleep.”

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Read the Label Before You Buy

by Wayne Ferrier

Junk Food I was driving home from the gym and stopped at the convenience store to grab a power drink, a crunchy snack, and dinner for the cat. I'm being hypothetical here, I don't really work out at the gym, and I rarely buy snacks at the convenience store, but for the sake of this story indulge me please. I looked around at the myriad of choices, not feeling compelled to comparison shop—it's a convenience store remember—so I grabbed what seemed the most appealing and headed to the cash register. What I had chosen was a bottle of POWERADE, COMBOS and a can of FRISKIES Classic Pâté for the cat. Cats are so suave aren’t they? We eat COMBOS and they have pâté. I had skipped dinner so I would have time to go to the gym. I want to be healthy you know.

Back in the car I tore open the bag and downed a fistful of COMBOS and had a swig of POWERADE. Having gotten my initial fix, I took a moment to glance at the nutritional information that is on the food label. The first ingredients listed on food labels are the primary ingredients in that product. The first two or three are the ones you want to look at closely. Ingredients at the bottom of the list may be in smaller amounts than the first ingredients that are listed.

By now most consumers should be aware of what to look for and what to look out for. Experts have been telling us for years to eat whole grains. But my bag of COMBOS listed Wheat Flour as the first ingredient. That's not whole grain. Well that's to be expected. Maybe this snack food wasn't the best choice to get my daily fiber. So what was the second ingredient? It said Palm Kernel, Palm Oil and/or Hydrogenated Palm Oil.

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Anslem Kiefer: Des Meeres und der Liebe Wellen – White Cube, Hoxton, London

By Sue Hubbard

In 1969 the German artist Anslem Kiefer compiled a book, Unfruchtbare Landschaften that brought together two disparate elements: landscapes and the pages of a medical textbook dealing with contraception. Placing the IUDs out of context on top of the landscapes seemed to imply sterility. Wrenched from their purpose and context these now alien objects brought with them not only traces of their own history but took on new metaphorical meanings. The beauty of the gesture of these juxtapositions lay in the attempt to say something beyond language.Anselm_Kiefer_Des_Meeres_und_der_Liebe_Wellen_2011_a4_1[1]

Kiefer is one of the most significant and serious artists of the post war generation. Born in Donaueschinger in South Germany in 1945, in 1966 he left his law studies at the University of Freiburg to study art. A student of Joseph Beuys in the early 1970s he began to explore the fraught territory of German history and identity in a muscular visual language. His paintings, oversized books and performance art draw from literature, art and music, philosophy and folklore. Borrowing from Teutonic myth he has conducted investigations into the recent past, particularly the era of the Third Reich, exploring a post Nietzschian desire to establish meaning in a brutal Godless world. His painted landscapes of the ploughed and rutted German countryside, incorporating straw, ash, clay, lead and shellac, have become metaphors for the tragedy of recent European history. Engaged in an endless interrogation of the devastation and horror that his country wrought, he implies that the tragedy was a product of Germany’s intellectual and cultural heritage, a view endorsed in Michael Haneke's superb yet disturbing film, The White Ribbon, based on life in pre-first world war Germany.

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Willie Noir and the Consequences of Sin

By Fred Zackel

Art_ensignfrown0616_gi Didja hear that Senator John Ensign, the two-term Nevada Republican caught up in a sex and ethics inquiry, won’t run again?

As Carl Hulse of The New York Times reported it, “As I have learned through the mistake that I made, there are consequences to sin,” Mr. Ensign, 52, said at a news conference in Las Vegas as his wife, Darlene, stood at his side.

Hulse continued, saying:

“Once considered a future presidential contender, Mr. Ensign has seen his political fortunes plummet since he admitted in 2009 to an affair with a former campaign staffer who was also the wife of a top aide. A Senate Ethics Committee investigation, still under way, began after disclosures that Mr. Ensign’s parents paid $96,000 to the aide, Douglas Hampton, who also said the senator had helped him line up lobbying clients after Mr. Hampton left his Senate job.”

Like a lot of folks, I love reading noir. Watching interesting people make one dumb decision after another. Like watching them falling down a staircase, going faster and faster until they go splat.

Noir is Inexorable and doom is Inevitable.

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