Nabokov’s Little Girl

I really love Nabokov ‘s description of a 12 year old girl because it fits my experience with such smart girls half a century later. Nabokov claims that he did not know any such girl when he wrote “Lolita”. I do not know how great writers do it:
 
“We washed zillions of dishes. ‘Zillions’ you know is schoolmarm’s slang for many-many-many-many. Oh yes, last but not least, as Mother says — Now let me see — what was it? I know we made shadow-graphs. Gee, what fun.”?
 

I don’t read much, but I have read the Harry Potter series a zillion times.


From Krishnapriya’s Orkut Profile:

Favorite Writers: Marquez

Enjoyed, but not appreciated: Mario Puzo, Ayn Rand.

Paulo Coehlo is great.

And I love Dan Brown. Why? Dan Brown is cool, and he knows the stuff.

And:

“You know, I missed you terribly, Lo.”

“I did not. Fact I’ve been revoltingly unfaithful to you, but it does not matter one bit, because you’ve stopped caring for me, anyway. You drive much faster than my mummy, mister.”

“The word is incest,”said Lo—and walked into the closet, walked out again with a young golden giggle, opened the adjoining door, and after carefully peering inside with her strange smoky eyes lest she make another mistake, retired to the bathroom.

George Orwell, Public Choice Socialist

I am not a fan of George Orwell’s novels, but this quote in 1984 capsulizes my novel better than anything I have ever read:

“To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies—all this is indispensably necessary.”

Bryan links to a public choice paper on George Orwell:

“There really ought to be a paper on George Orwell and Public Choice.  Thanks to Loyola University senior Michael Makovi, there finally is.  He’s done a great job –George Orwell as Public Choice Economist,” forthcoming in The American Economist, is history of thought you can really sink your teeth into.  Here are some highlights.”

Why Are People So Dumb?

“Dear board members and investors, I don’t think you guys are intellectually capable enough to have any sensible discussion anymore. This is something which I not just believe but can prove on your faces also! I had calculated long back (by taking avg life expectancy minus avg sleeping hrs) that I only have ~3L (hours) in my life. ~3L hrs are certainly not much to waste with you guys! Hence resigning from the position of Directorship, Chairmanship and the CEO position of the company. I’m available for the next 7 days to help in the transition. Won’t give more time after that. So please be efficient in this duration.”

This is Housing.com CEO Rahul Yadav’s resignation letter. This is “bad English” and “bad manners”. But, unlike most people, I’ve always greeted these sort of statements with sympathy, tolerance and respect because I know where this comes from, without even knowing anything about such people. And this morning, I read this interview:

Rahul has a general disregard for humankind. Yes. “While growing up, I observed things and always kept thinking. Why are the trains so dirty? Why is this thing like this? Why are people not working hard? Why are hostels so dirty? Why is everything so broken? Why are people so dumb?” he asks rhetorically. However, he is optimistic about changing all this.

Again, this is “bad English” but I think this is obvious:

Rahul looks outside the window at the lake and says, “Well, food will also change. It is something that hasn’t changed over the last couple of centuries. More and more people are working on computers and are getting tensed about what they eat. It creates stress and is something that is always on the minds. Lifestyles are changing but the food hasn’t. Our generation will be screwed but then we’ll realize and course correct,” he says and Rahul believes this to be the fate with most things on planet earth.

 

Why Do We Find It So Hard To Understand Each Other?

Years ago, a smarty pulled a trick on me. In the mornings, she would promise to come to my room. Before sunset, while the keyboards still jingled and rattled. Beaming, I always whispered, “Why, oh, how nice of you!” But, after a while, she started defaulting on her promises.

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow.

I waited and waited and waited till it was too dark. The reasons she gave me were always along these lines, “This morning, a coconut fell on my grandmother’s head. You know, I love her more than anyone on earth. Weeping. Sob. Sob.”  Soon, suspicion began to dawn on my nerdy mind. The underlying assumption, of course, was, “Now that you have seen what it is like, if you want more of this, you must put me permanently there.” I could never get my head around this line of reasoning. But, this didn’t have any effect on me for the same reason rain does not have a big effect on the nerd who always reads in the school library.

I, the scholar and gentleman, still courted her, tolerating her antics with Buddha-like patience. I wasn’t big on sleeping with her. So, she assumed that I wanted to make her my “wife”. Now, I am being blatant at the risk of sounding honest. It is very cruel, to be honest. (more…)

The Mellow Heuristic

If our hearts were pure, we wouldn’t need our heads. To me, this is the most beautiful, most insightful statement on moral reasoning. We would never understand how much we really care about morality without fully understanding what this quote of Paul Bloom means.

For instance, I am an Aspie. Aspies are far less cruel than normal human beings because Aspies are more guilt-driven. Normal people feel shame when they lose in the status game. Aspies feel guilt when they do wrong. So, it is not surprising that Aspies often do things which lower their status, but does not leave them guilty. Similarly, normal people are more likely to do things which raise their status, but leaves them guilty. Or, perhaps they do not feel much guilt. It also seems to me that normal people value covert conniving skills more than moral rectitude, though they hide this even from themselves.

What possibly explains this? Rational deliberation plays more of a role in the moral attitudes of Aspies. But, I do not think that this fully explains this. This is probably not detached concern either. I believe Aspies are less cruel than normal human beings because they feel genuine compassion toward victims of injustice. In other words, the belief that thinking people are more rational, and feeling people are mush headed is not true. This is a false dichotomy. The truth is that it is impossible to think deeply without feeling deeply, without being emotionally sensitive.

I will explain. One of the most interesting observations of James Watson is that genetics would lead to a world where honest compassion for the underdog might become possible. This means that we do not live in such a world. It is obvious to me that we do not live in a world where true civility between human beings—let alone compassion—is possible. Honest, wholehearted compassion wouldn’t be possible without a high degree of safety, trust, comfort and reciprocity in human relationships. This wouldn’t be possible without more direct, verbal communication between people. If you think that there is enough of this in the world in which we live in, you are not a particularly introspective or sensitive person. But, it is not surprising to me that James Watson made this observation. From his worldview, he seems to be such a person. (more…)

Totally Conventional Views Which I Hold

       

  1. If our hearts were pure, we wouldn’t need our heads to tell right from wrong.
  2. Certain things are right, and certain things are wrong. Even if no one would ever prove why.
  3. If people become nice, the world would be nice.
  4. If people calmly listen to others, most human conflicts wouldn’t arise in the first place.
  5. To paraphrase Bryan Caplan,“Raising kids is the most meaningful thing most people will ever do with their lives.”
  6. You perhaps shouldn’t follow your “dream”.
  7. Creative men often do stupid things. 
  8. Politicians are crooks.
  9. Humility is very valuable. (It is a very valuable form of humility to understand that there is much one can learn from far more intelligent, learned fellows.)
  10. Most mothers prefer normal children, not exceptionally intelligent or stupid ones.

Bryan Caplan’s list here, and Tyler Cowen’s list here.

                                                       

Gone Girl

“Hi Darling,

So we both have things we want to work on. For me, it’d be my perfectionism, my occasional (wishful thinking?) self-righteousness. For you? I know you worry that you’re sometimes too distant, too removed, unable to be tender or nurturing. Well, I want to tell you – that isn’t true. You need to know that you are a good man, you are a sweet man, you are kind. I’ve punished you for not being able to read my mind sometimes, for not being able to act in exactly the way I wanted you to act right at exactly that moment. I punished you for being a real, breathing man. I ordered you around instead of trusting you to find your way. I didn’t give you the benefit of the doubt: that no matter how much you and I blunder, you always love me and want me to be happy. And that should be enough for any girl, right? I worry I’ve said things about you that aren’t actually true, and that you’ve come to believe them. So I am here to say now: You are WARM. You are my sun.”

-Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn

Gail Wynand, My Favorite Fictional Character

“Gail Wynand lived with his father in the basement of an old house in the heart of Hell’s Kitchen. His father was a longshoreman, a tall, silent, illiterate man who had never gone to school. His own father and his grandfather were of the same kind, and they knew of nothing but poverty in their family. But somewhere far back in the line there had been a root of aristocracy, the glory of some noble ancestor and then some tragedy, long since forgotten, that had brought the descendants to the gutter. Something about all the Wynands–in tenement, saloon and jail–did not fit their surroundings. Gail’s father was known on the waterfront as the Duke. 

Gail’s mother had died of consumption when he was two years old. He was an only son. He knew vaguely that there had been some great drama in his father’s marriage; he had seen a picture of his mother; she did not look and she was not dressed like the women of their neighborhood; she was very beautiful. All life had gone out of his father when she died. He loved Gail; but it was the kind of devotion that did not require two sentences a week. 

Gail did not look like his mother or father. He was a throwback to something no one could quite figure out; the distance had to be reckoned, not in generations, but in centuries. He was always too tall for his age, and too thin. The boys called him Stretch Wynand. Nobody knew what he used for muscles; they knew only that he used it. 

He had worked at one job after another since early childhood. For a long while he sold newspapers on street corners. One day he walked up to the pressroom boss and stated that they should start a new service–delivering the paper to the reader’s door in the morning; he explained how and why it would boost circulation. “Yeah?” said the boss. “I know it will work,” said Wynand. “Well, you don’t run things around here,” said the boss. “You’re a fool,” said Wynand.

He lost the job.  (more…)

Terry Pratchett isn’t jolly. He’s angry’

People are very bad at reading writers. If you aren’t paying attention, it is hard to know what goes on inside their minds. I am not angry when I write, much of the time. I laugh and laugh and laugh. But, the people who read my blog assume that I am angry. I am very slow to temper. A lot of post-processing happens before I write. It’s hard to write when the anger consumes you. 

‘Terry Pratchett isn’t jolly. He’s angry’

“I want to tell you about my friend Terry Pratchett, and it’s not easy. I’m going to tell you something you may not know. Some people have encountered an affable man with a beard and a hat. They believe they have met Sir Terry Pratchett. They have not. Some years ago I ran into someone who said, “What a jolly old elf Sir Terry is,” he said. And I thought, No. No, he’s not.”

 

Summers is not entirely to blame for his social ineptitude

“Summers’s inability to get outside his own head landed him in fatally hot water. It reached the boiling point following his appearance at a conference sponsored by the National Bureau of Economic Research on women in science, which was held in Cambridge in mid-January 2005. There he suggested that the relatively small number of women in tenured positions in the physical sciences might in part be attributable to a lower frequency among women as compared to men of innate potential for doing science at the highest level. Aware that many women would not take kindly to these words, he was careful to leave open the alternative explanation that in the past many talented women had been strongly discouraged by their teachers from ever trying to master top-level mathematics and sciences.

Summers’s remarks might have gone unnoticed outside the meeting were it not for the presence of my former student, now a professor of biology at MIT, Nancy Hopkins. Over the past decade she had worked tirelessly and effectively to improve the working conditions of women scientists there. Before Nancy’s highly visible efforts, the salaries and space assignments of women at MIT were notably unequal to those of their male counterparts. But Nancy did not challenge Summers at the meeting. Instead she instantly bolted from the room, later saying Summers’s words made her sick, and soon appeared on national TV attacking him and setting off a firestorm of feminist anger. It did Nancy Hopkins no particular credit as a scientist to admit that the mere hypothesis that there might be genetic differences between male and female brains—and therefore differences in the distribution of one form of cognitive potential—made her sick. Anyone sincerely interested in understanding the imbalance in the representation of men and women in science must reasonably be prepared at least to consider the extent to which nature may figure, even with clear evidence that nurture is strongly implicated. To my regret, Summers, instead of standing firm, within a week apologized publicly three times for being candid about what might well be a fact of evolution that academia will have to live with. Except for the psychologist Steve Pinker, no prominent Harvard scientist voiced a word in Summers’s defense; I suspect the majority were fearful of being tarred with the brush of political incorrectness. If I were still a member of the faculty, the number of tenured scientists standing visibly behind the president in this matter would have literally doubled. But that would not have been enough to put out the flames. Apparently desperate, Summers soon contritely proposed a $50 million kitty to recruit more women to Harvard’s senior science faculty. The women-and-science firestorm by itself did not lead to Summers’s dismissal late last February as Harvard’s president. It was merely the culmination of hundreds of more private displays on his part of disregard for the social niceties that ordinarily permit human beings to work together for a common good. While academia almost expects its younger members to be brash and full of themselves, these qualities are most unbecoming in more seasoned members of the society, and generally fatal in leaders. Reading up on a topic the night before and then appearing at conferences with the bravado to suggest that one knows more than those who have spent their careers thinking about the issues at hand is no way for a president to act. Summers’s non-age-adjusted IQ, moreover, at age fifty-one is likely 5 to 10 points lower than when he was a twenty-year-old wunderkind. Harvard’s longstanding mandatory retirement age of fifty-five for academics was never a matter of arbitrary ageism but a recognition born of experience that as academics age they live more by old ideas and less by new ones. Summers, still acting as if he were the brightest person in the room, was bound to offend people who knew better.

It may be, however, that Summers is not entirely to blame for his social ineptitude. His repeated failures to comprehend the emotional states of those he presided over might be indicative of the genetic hand he was dealt as a mathematical economist—the very cards that endowed him with great quantitative intelligence may also have disabled the normal faculties for reading human faces and voices.

The social incapacity of mathematicians is no mere stereotype; many of the most brilliant are mild to full-blown cases of Asperger’s syndrome (the high-intelligence form of autism), perhaps the most genetically determined of known human behavioral “disabilities.” Like exceptional math aptitude, Asperger’s occurs five times more frequently in males than in females. The reason why must remain a mystery until further research shows how genes control the relative development and functioning of male and female brains. If Summers’s tactlessness does, in fact, have a genetic basis, much of the anger toward him should rightly yield to sympathy. No longer can his upbringing be blamed for failing to instill in him the graces of the civilized individual. In any case, all discussion should stop as to whether his dismissal was unduly precipitous—it was in all likelihood overdue. Whether those prominent individuals who promoted his candidacy should hang their heads in shame, however, is less obvious.

          —James D Watson, Avoid Boring People