Asshole Omission

This piece, entitled “Help, I’m Surrounded by Jerks,” somehow manages not to mention Bob Sutton’s soon-to-be-released book The No Asshole Rule, which would seem to be the obvious place to start on the topic. In any case, The No Asshole Rule is one hell of a book. I have loved Bob Sutton’s work ever since I read “The Knowing-Doing Gap” years ago.

Update: Bob Sutton will be appearing on the Today Show tomorrow morning at 8:32am ET! Congrats Bob!

Steven Pinker’s forthcoming book

Interesting teaser article on Pinker’s new book The Stuff of Thought, due out this fall.

“We have to do two things with language. We’ve got to convey a message and we’ve got to negotiate what kind of social relationship we have with someone,” Pinker says in a telephone interview from his home in Cambridge, Mass.

Even something as seemingly straightforward as asking for the salt involves thinking and communicating at two levels, which is why we utter such convoluted requests as, “If you think you could pass the salt, that would be great.”

Says Pinker: “It’s become so common that we don’t even notice that it is a philosophical rumination rather than a direct imperative. It’s a bit of a social dilemma. On the one hand, you do want the salt. On the other hand, you don’t want to boss people around lightly.

“So you split the difference by saying something that literally makes no sense while also conveying the message that you’re not treating them like some kind of flunky.”

Tasting dog food made me a better cook!

Via the always-interesting Mojo Mom, a link to an interview with the professional “sensory analyst” Pat Patterson. As described by MM: “Imagine a day at work where you eat dry dog food and rate how meaty it is, and describe the smell of used cat litter. Pat has traveled to New Jersey to feel men’s faces after shaving, and flown to Indonesia to taste fresh fruit.” I wonder if you could just sign up for the Indonesia part.

Making sense of big numbers

It’s impossible to have an intuitive feel for a big number, like $1.2 trillion. It puts our intuition on TILT. We have a very real sense of how $1,200 is different than $200. With $1,200, you can make a mortgage payment (at least in my part of the country). With $200, you pay the cable & utility bills. But we have no intuitive feel for how $200 billion might be different than $1.2 trillion. What can you do with $1.2 trillion that you can’t do with $200 billion, or $50 billion? What is $1.2 trillion worth? And how do you manage to communicate its worth to others?

David Leonhardt of the Times has written a brilliant and hugely important column that grapples with this issue in the context of the Iraq war. It is essential reading.

Training your spouse like an exotic animal

When I read this fabulous Amy Sutherland piece in the Times last June, my Stickiness Radar started blazing. In fact, I wasn’t even aware that I HAD a Stickiness Radar until that moment. Much less that it could “blaze.” Does a radar “blaze”? Doubtful.

Sutherland discusses how, in the course of studying the methods used to train exotic animals (like elephants and baboons), she had a thought: Hey, I wonder if these methods would work on my husband. This piece is 6 for 6 on the principles of stickiness. After publication, she stayed on the Times Most E-Mailed List for what felt like 2 months. Now, bizarrely, she has re-emerged on the Most E-Mailed List, 7 months after the publication of her piece. That’s damn sticky. And it has given my blog post the veneer of topicality.