Monthly Archives: March 2009

Children and Happiness

According to this article, Think having children will make you happy?, there is no correlation between having children and being happy. Yet we believe that children make us happier. The author, Nattavudh Powdthavee, believes this misconception can be explained through a mechanism called the “focusing illusion.” I’m not sure exactly what this focusing illusion is, and I haven’t given this article enough attention. I just wanted to do a quick readthrough and grapple with the problems later. I think Powdthavee mentions how positive experiences are more salient in our minds, but they are more rare. The everyday reality of child-rearing is actually kind of dull and stressful. These positive experiences don’t actually increase our overall levels of happiness.

There’s something about this conception of happiness that really troubles me. Something is wrong, but I don’t know what that something is. It’s like when I read Descartes for philosophy, and I have a hard time figuring out just why exactly he’s wrong. This will be frustrating, so I’m putting it off.

I have this thing about defining happiness as purely a realtime subjective phenomenon, but I want to make sure I’m not reading my prejudices into the article.

So I will examine it closely and give my opinion later.

No Water

This blog entry,Twenty million people, and no water?, is about a water shortage in Mexico City. I don’t want to comment on the science of this particular issue, but global warming will make issues like this more likely. I hate the term global warming because it doesn’t capture the ugly resource shortages and competition that will likely take place. (Not sure where I found this link. Probably via Sullivan.)

There are technologies we can use that’ll help us through these crises. Here’s something from Climate Progress talking about recycling water: Toilet to tap — get used to it!


I’ve spent a lot of time angry today and the previous few days. There’s a lot of schoolwork and cleaning that I just resent, and I think that has been the source of my anger.

It’s odd how detached I can sometimes be from my emotions. At first, I recognized that I was angry, but I wasn’t quite sure why. Then, in the morning I saw a pile of dishes and I said, “Grrr.” I knew that living in filth was making me angry.

The problem with being angry is that it’s hard to compartmentalize. You react angrily to other things.

I’m going to pull this quote from Blackburn’s Ruling Passions out of context: “It would be tempting to say that if the thought of an object causes such responses, then this is what it is for it to be the object of an emotion. But this is not quite right. I may think of you and become angry. But it does not follow that it is you I am angry at. Thinking of you may remind me of the party where I met you, and this may make me angry for some quite different reason. … It is not the fact that you cause my anger …, however directly or indirectly, that makes it true that I am angry … at you. What does make it you that I am angry with is the fact that my anger is directed at you, or in other words, that I would be inclined to vent it upon you or to blame you for something, at least in the absence of other inhibitory mechanisms.”

It made me think about how I was angry at things that did not directly motivate my anger. I mean, think about a grouchy person as your bank teller. He may act grouchy towards you, but it doesn’t mean that he is mad at you. In that same situation, I’ve thought, “He must be having a bad day.” When you’re having a bad day, you may act miserably in contexts that aren’t the source of your anger.

Anger can take on its own life and become decoupled from what you were originally angry at. It’ll make you snap at people you care about, even though they did nothing to make you angry. So now I was that person “having a bad day” and being a general grouch.

I don’t want to be that kind of person, so I’m going to do my best to stop being angry in the first place.

Last night, I did an inventory of the main things that were making me angry: the filth and schoolwork. I’ve been doing a lot of complaining when it comes to both. Constantly venting did nothing to make me feel better. In fact, it just did the opposite. It has made me more and more angry. One of my roommates doesn’t do as much cleaning as I’d like him to, and makes a lot of messes. It’s stupid to complain because now I’m blaming him when obviously I’m contributing to the messes too. By complaining, I’m absolving myself of my culpability; I use him as a scapegoat. However, I’ve also absolved myself of the control of the situation. If it’s all his fault, then I can’t control him and therefore I can’t control the mess. If instead I focus on myself, then I can control how much I clean, and how much of a mess I make. I regain control of the situation instead of being helpless.

(None of this is new. I went through a bitching cycle before and decided I would stop complaining. Also, after reading Confucius, I decided that I would have to set a good example first, like a king setting a virtuous example for his people. If I can’t keep things clean, why should I expect my roommates to? I have to pledge to not complain again.)

Instead of bitching about my schoolwork, I can be thankful that at least my parents were able to put me through college.

This, by itself, wasn’t enough of an exercise to dissipate my anger. Regaining control of a situation is a necessary condition for happiness, but I don’t think it’s sufficient. I still had a lot of anger the next morning.

What did make my anger disappear? I talked to a couple of friends on the phone, listened to some goofy songs, and took a long shower. It was funny because before I called anyone, I was telling myself that I shouldn’t talk to anyone because I was too angry and wouldn’t be good company. However, my rational mind knew that the isolation wouldn’t help, so I made the phone calls.

Here are the lessons I have to remember:
1) When I’m depressed/angry, the best solution is interacting with other people.
2) Complaining always makes a problem worse. (Caveat: Complaining to the right people about a specific issue can make a difference. Example: My complaining about the dirty shower curtains in my dorm room. Other examples: With a business, a customer’s complaints can sometimes change things.) Specifically, if all you do is bitch about a problem, you’re making it worse. Find a solution instead.
3) Being angry can make you angry towards people you shouldn’t be angry at.
4) Assert your agency. Figure out what you can and can’t control about a situation.
5) Be a virtuous example before you blame others for not being virtuous.

Is Obama Cheery Enough?

I think the biggest issue for fixing the economy is Obama’s cheeriness. When Obama talks, is he optimistic enough about the economy? Or is he too gloomy? If he’s too gloomy, then people won’t have the confidence to invest. If he’s cheery, then the American people will become confident, take risks, and make the economy super-great.

Policy? Psh.

The Delayers

The reason why I didn’t like my last entry was that I wrote it using an imperious tone that I didn’t deserve. It has less to do with my eloquence. I could express my point more eloquently, but it wouldn’t matter. Basically, I’m being an epistemic jackass. Let’s say you ask me, “What time is it?” I reply, “3:30PM.” I make this reply without hemming or hawing. I don’t say, “I think it’s 3:30PM” even though it’s true that I’m not actually sure what time it is. You are definitely warranted in believing my testimony. I’m the one being the jackass, speaking claims as truth when, in fact, I am unwarranted in making claims in such bold terms.

The lesson isn’t that you shouldn’t ever propose that it is 3:30PM, but if you’re unsure, well then you better damn communicate that you’re unsure.

So with the caveat that this is idle speculation, let me present a hypothesis about the “Obama is doing too much” meme. It does not feel as if it’s an argument made in good faith.

It does not feel like a real argument. First, it is a very odd criticism. You did not hear it from these people when Bush tried to fight two wars at the same time. It is not as if this is a sentiment that these talking heads normally put out there. Second, it feels as if it is a talking point as opposed to an argument. It has a uniform quality that comes from parroting as opposed to reasoned thinking. These are two reasons why I don’t think it is something that comes from the depths of these commentators souls.

My guess, which I will soon surround with more caveats, is that this is a delaying tactic as opposed to a real argument. Well, I mean, you don’t see them trot out arguments against universal health care, et al. You say, “Yes, I agree with X and Y, but I think we need to take care of the economy first.” These, however, tend to be the same people who have been criticizing Obama for his handling of the economy. The talking heads are also the target of Obama’s tax hikes and they don’t seem too happy about it. There’s nothing wrong with being opposed to Obama; I just wanted to point that general fact out. You can see it via Greenwald, where the pundits are now self-identifying with “The Establishment.” It all gets murky as to what alliances lie where (especially when it comes to civil liberties and how Obama is part of this establishment), but when it comes to the economic issue, you have Obama on one side and some rich people, including these pundits, on the other side.

It’s actually a subtle argument designed to attack Obama rather than his proposals. It’s couched in reasonable terms (oh, I think we should take it slow; therefore I am a moderate), but it is a very pernicious argument against Obama’s competency.

The problem is that Obama is popular. The more you attack him head-on, the more ridiculous you look. American opinion is behind him, not the cocooned opinions of the talking heads. The proponents of the “too fast” meme don’t like Obama’s current plans for the economy or his future plans for health care, etc. They say stuff like “Now is not the time,” but their real argument is “It’s never the right time.” You say the former instead of the latter to avoid the criticism that comes with making a bolder claim.

Now, the problem with my claim is, “Look, since when do pundits give a shit about not saying ridiculous things?” Also, there is the problem that I’m overgeneralizing and simplifying the psychology of a whole group of people. These are all things I hate when I see other people do them. So let me back off. I heard Jim Cramer make this argument. I heard my dad either make this argument, or quote others as saying it. My dad is generally conservative (whatever that means anymore) and does not like Obama in the first place. Jim Cramer likes to cloak himself as someone who voted for Obama. I know this game. I used to play it when I used my conservative cred to call for “liberal” policies. And my dad was employing an argument that would appeal to me as an Obama supporter. So in these two instances, we see a level of being disingenuous. They don’t like those policies, and yet they’re arguing that we should wait for those policies. My dad’s in the position of many pundits. Those who aren’t fully entrenched in the Republican cocoon face an audience that is comprised of lots of Obama-supporters. They’re not going to swallow the full-on argument, so you give them something more palatable.

There’s two levels of this, and it’s very reasonable for people to hold contradictory beliefs. Liberals did it all the time simultaneously portraying Rove as an evil genius and a bumbling moron. Sometimes, a person can be both, but this is a complicated thing to explain and I’ll just pass over the point.

The first level is giving an argument that is disingenous. You don’t care whether Obama is going slow or not. You actually don’t like his policies. The best way to defeat them is to say, “Not now.” You’re acting as a delayer when you can hopefully counter Obama when he’s less popular.

On the second level, you’re making an argument about Obama’s character, as opposed to the policies. Implied in going too fast is: He doesn’t know what he’s doing; he’s trying to handle too much at once. From this, one is supposed to further deduce: Obama is incompetent so we should not trust him to handle any issue. Hence, I would come to hold the opinion that one is trying to convince me all along — namely, that Obama is a terrible president. It is couched in moderated terms, but it is a terribly pernicious argument. It is designed to undermine Obama.

Is this second level disingenous? I mean, the first level is only disingenuous to an extent. It’s not an out-and-out lie, but it does have a level of BS. The second may actually be a legitimate concern. You don’t like Obama, and your interpretation is framed by your preconceived notion of his incompetence. Fair enough.

I think the disingenous claim, perhaps, is the proposition, “It is not the correct time to address problem X.” Your problem isn’t the timing, it’s the content of the way Obama is trying to address problem X. You also don’t care about the timing of issue X qua issue X, but with respect to any issue. It is worth asking that if X were something you supported, would you change your mind? My guess is that those arguing in good faith will answer immediately answer yes, while those arguing in bad faith will be temporarily taken aback by a question they hadn’t considered.

In any case, it is useless to argue against an argument made in bad faith. There are two purposes for the main argument. One is to delay against an issue somebody probably doesn’t like in the first place. It is probably necessary to ask whether the person would oppose issue X at all times, or even Obama’s approach to X at all times. A possible rhetorical move is to say, “Well, then, your problem is with X, not with the timing at all.” The second purpose is to portray Obama as incompetent. Any argument that it is possible to handle more than one thing at once isn’t going to undermine this claim. I think I’ve seen this argument on The Washington Monthly and maybe some other liberal blogs. Instead, it is a specific argument against a specific person. One must argue that Obama is good enough to handle all of this at once.

Assorted Thoughts on Politics

  • One way to divide political theories: historical and ahistorical. I fall firmly into the camp of “historical.” I tend to call those who favor the latter “Idealists,” and I mean it as an epithet. They consider abstract governments with no care for people as they really are. I think the best expression of this is in Polybius:

    “As for Plato’s celebrated Republic, which is highly praised by certain philosophers, I do not think it admissable that this should be brought into the argument about constitutions. For just as we do not allow artists or athletes who are not duly registered or have not been in training to take part in festivals or games, so we should not admit the Platonic constitution to this contest for the prize of merit, unless some example can be provided of it in action. Up to the present, at any rate, the idea of comparing it with the constitutions of Sparta, Rome or Carthage would be like bringing for some statue and then comparing it with living and breathing men. For even if the statue were absolutely perfect in respect of its workmanship, the comparison of a lifeless object with a living being would strike the spectators as quite inadequate and incongruous.” – Polybius, The Rise of the Roman Empire, Book VI

    I do not think this is quite fair to Plato because that was not his intention. Still, the sentiment holds. Libertarians are usually ahistorical political thinkers.

  • Capitalism is a giant failure. It’s dictates are grow and consume. Imagine if the Earth were a giant bank. Capitalism has been withdrawing from that bank and destroying our planet. Now, we’re about to default on the loans our ancestors have been taking out. The changes we are making to this planet are scary because mass extinction events are a rule of life. Basically, capitalism has elevated money for the individual over the existence of the human race. That’s “fail” in my book.
  • Unfettered capitalism, the libertarian’s wet dream, will simply result in the collusion of the rich at the expense of the poor. Of course, that’s the nature of things even when you don’t have modern capitalism.
  • Speaking of collusion of the rich, look at some aspects of our government. Telecoms break the law, but get off free because these rich people buy off, or call in favors from, their rich buddies in Congress. At least we have some modicum of change insofar as taxes are being raised for the richest among us. Still, I have to come back to this ancient idea of “mixed” government, where you have elements of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy. It seems as if the “democratic” element is sorely underrepresented.
  • The concept of radicalism currently entices me. The times call for radical, bold action. Our governmental system needs radical changes because it has allowed practical tyranny for the last 8 years and Obama’s administration is not eager to give up most of that power. Furthermore, moderatism will not save us from a warming planet when the changes are tracking the most pessimistic models.
  • I want to be a radical but I don’t want to be an “Idealist.” Blech. Almost as bad as being a “dogmatist.”
  • EDIT: This post is very silly, full of silly generalizations. I should perhaps take more time to think before I post.

    EDIT: This post Is the global economy a Ponzi scheme expresses some of what I was thinking in a much more developed manner. (via Lloyd on AIM)


I’m not posting this on the TCM Blog yet because this is just public musing.

I wanted to do something with Top Web Comics, but I don’t think it’s necessary. I’m not going to get enough out of it compared to the effort that I put into it. I’m not going to get visits from that site unless I’m way up at the tippy-top. However, if I’m already at the top, then I’ve already got enough fans, and I’ll be happy with that. Perhaps later on, I could shoot for something, and maybe increase my base through that venue, but I just don’t think it’s useful now. I’m not going to put my effort into encouraging people to vote. However, I’m probably going to continue with the voting incentive because it’s good to have at least a tiny buffer.

I had this idea to put the latest post of the blog on my comic. I guess the idea was to get more people to read the TCM Blog. I’m not sure what purpose this will serve. In fact, it seems to me that the TCM Blog just isn’t that important overall when it comes to the comic.

What are my goals? Well, the main goal is to produce a great comic. Yes, this is first and foremost. Second, the goal is to make money. While this has always been a possibility for me, it’s never been a priority for me. But I’m about to graduate, and I don’t have a job yet, so I’m thinking about money. Another goal may be to increase the readership, but I don’t think that’s a great goal in and of itself.

So back to the money thing. I put ads, but they’re not making much money. This isn’t very surprising. I mean, the ads that are up there aren’t things that my readers are probably looking for.

Merchandising is the real thing I need to work on if I want to make money. All my other tiny projects are fun, but they aren’t going to help me make progress towards my goal. In fact, it seems like I work on all these projects in order to avoid working on this harder, unfamiliar project.

The other project that looks exciting is adding “tags” to the comic. I think this is worthwhile. Sometimes I enjoy hitting the random button to look at old comics. I want a different way to go through my archive. If there’s a way to browse by theme, I think people will use that.

I want to use the social networking to build some type of community, but I just don’t really know how to use facebook or myspace. One thing I will continue to do is spam my friends to get them to join my fan page on facebook.

Facebook is changing the way pages look, so that they’re more like profiles. This just confuses me more. I’m not sure what to think of the change. I have a feeling I may abuse it, e.g. changing my status every 5 seconds. We’ll see.

Loud Noises

Who the fuck blasts loud music at 7:00 in the morning?

Not a rhetorical question. The answer is some asshole in my apartment building.

I don’t even understand it. It’s fucking 7:00 on Friday MORNING. This is not some late night party. If it’s 3:00AM, I’m pissed but not puzzled. If this was some type of morning routine, then by this time of the year, I would’ve already hunted the person down and strangled him/her.

But what cold, cruel whim possesses a person to play loud music on a certain Friday at 7AM, when I am already sleep-deprived as it is?

Maybe working ahead isn’t so bad

Then again, maybe working ahead isn’t so bad. I thought today would be stressful. In reality, working ahead meant I had very little to do today. Thus, today was not very stressful at all. If I had procrastinated more, then today would have been stressful. So one point for working ahead. But my weekend did suck, so procrastination wins on that count.

Forget Not Procrastinating

Procrastination is so much better than working early. Here I am, with two papers and a presentation due this week. I worked slowly through the weekend, instead of with the intense focus of last minute panic. I’ve got an ugly draft of one paper, an ugly draft of the outline for my presentation (okay, not so ugly), and nothing for the other paper.

Normally, I’m stressed. Now, I’m stressed and worn out from the weekend. Fuck not procrastinating.

The Numbers Game

I admonished myself not to play the numbers game. I’m counting fans for the Chalkboard Manifesto fan page on facebook. I super-hyped that I’m getting close to 100, even though these arbitrary numbers count for nothing.

I’m convincing myself that this is all worth it because I’m pimping my comic to people I normally don’t pimp it to. New fans = a good thing.

Nonetheless, I have to remember that my main goal is to make an excellent comic, not collect fans.