Homo homini rodentius est

How to be happy

bowl of cherriesDan Gilbert isn’t your typical Harvard egghead (though his balding pate does bear a striking resemblence to this morning’s hard-boiled breakfast…). His [website], which identifies him as the head of the Harvard Hedonic Psychology Lab, contains the expected lists of academic credentials and awards, but also links to a video entitled “The Hand Puppet Dance”; shows his impressive and august Curriculum Vitae, as well as a section on how to “Control A Man in A Chicken Suit.” As you may guess, Gilbert is exceptional in many ways, not least in that he can write — clearly and humorously — about very important things. Like Happiness.

If you stroll through Barnes & Noble you may find his book [Stumbling on Happiness] sitting uncomfortably in the Self Help section. It’s in the wrong place — this isn’t a Deepak Chopra exercise in better living through purple prose. Rather, like Freakonomics, this book belongs to that rare collection of popular science books that are so well-written and go down so easily you may not even realize your understanding of the world has changed profoundly until you finish the last sentence.

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The last on Ann

I don’t want to give her any more play than she deserves, but wanted to comment on the fallout of her PR blitz last week. Encouraging and discouraging:

The majority of media outlets that have addressed her are negative, from, of course, the [New York Times], to the [Philly Inquirer], to [Margaret Carlson] on Bloomberg (no raving liberal outlet). You can find many more on Google News. Very encouragingly, even [The Conservative Voice] chides her for going too far. That is significant. It signals wariness on the right of her brand of hyperbole.

Alas, her book remains #1 at Amazon.

Enough is enough

Ann Coulter close upOh there she goes again! We’ve all gotten used to Ann Coulter promoting her silly career as professional shit-stirrer by saying the most outrageous things (un-)imaginable. [Sullivan] sees her as a pathetic hollow figure, simply driven by hunger for notoriety. But motivations are unknowable, actions are what count. And this time is different. Her comments in her new book and on television that the widows of men who died in the World Trade Center are exploiting the deaths of their husbands and reveling in financial gain from the catastrophe go far beyond mere controversy-mongering. It’s worse than “mean spirited”. It’s immoral. It slanders innocent people and lowers the level of discussion of public matters below the gutter. Enough is enough.

Any money she makes through this scurrilous hate mongering comes at the cost of people’s reputations and all of our sensibilities. Any money that her publisher makes from her is damned. The book, Godless, is published by the Crown Forum imprint of Random House. Random House, the venerable house built by Bennett Cerf and once the publisher of writers like William Faulkner, Eugene O’Neill and James Joyce, now peddles this trash purely for profit. Certainly not because it benefits society in any way. Cerf must be spinning in his grave seeing what has become of his company, now part of the giant Bertelsmann conglomerate.

“Bertelsmann’s corporate culture is based on the belief that ownership, economic success and the nature of the media business bring with them a special responsibility to society.”

So states the Bertelsmann corporate website. There seems to be a cognitive disconnect between their corporate philosophy and the product they sell. Perhaps we need to let Jasmin Borhan, Executive Vice-President of Corporate Communications for Bertelsmann, know that they need to try a little harder. Their corporate mission can’t possibly involve making money off slanderous attacks on the families of people lost on 9/11.

She can be reached at [removed, for the reasons stated at the end of this post…] UPDATE 6/10: There is [evidence] that bookstores are getting cold feet about having her promote this book. That will get the attention of her corporate enablers more than any amount of public denunciation…UPDATE 6/16: More on corporate responsibility and the promotion of hate speech, after the jump.

UPDATE 6/19: Thoughts on the call to action and the risk of censorship. Toward the end after the jump.

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Craven politics

A reader name Andrea provides a link to [a good fisking] of the president’s speech on the marriage amendment that highlights, among other things, the threats to federalism that it represents. Yet another example of how this administration will turn its back on its own principles — whether in fiscal policy or constitutional issues — to make some political gains.

Even if Patrick Fitzgerald didn’t exist, Rove would be pulling out the last hairs he has over the lack of wiggle room they have: can’t cut spending in an election year, hence can’t respond to the main concern of their base; can’t move on Roe because, even with a stacked court, they don’t want to lose a major wedge issue. So they’re reduced to making futile gestures about gay marriage that only make them look craven.

UPDATE 2:00 pm — The marriage amendment roll call and some thoughts on how they voted, after the jump

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A cruel irony

AIDS ribbon on wedding cakeAccording to the New York Times it was 25 years ago [today] that the first official notice of what would become the AIDS epidemic that devastated the gay community in this country appeared in documents at the Centers for Disease Control. How nastily ironic that today is the day the Senate chose to begin debate on the bill to ban gay marriage. While I’m no fan of gay marriage — considering it a politically facile attempt to apply straight mores to gay identities — I respect the sincerity of those who hope that it will encourage stable healthy lifestyles for gay men. Couldn’t Congress have chosen another day to start their witchhunt?

One is tempted to see in this the cruel hand of extreme partisanship — but it most likely is just another example of tone deafness from the same Congress that thought it would be a good idea to turn Terri Schiavo’s death into a referendum on quality of life issues. A pox on both Houses, I say.

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