Monday, June 29, 2009

Summer vacation

I'm going on vacation, so I probably won't be posting this week.

In the meantime, here are some ducks trying to figure out how to use an escalator:

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Everyone's listening to Michael Jackson

MySpace lets you listen to all his albums for free (streaming).

Meanwhile, here are the current bestselling albums on Amazon by anyone:

1. Michael Jackson 25th Anniversary of Thriller ~ Michael Jackson
2. Off the Wall ~ Michael Jackson
3. Bad ~ Michael Jackson
4. Michael Jackson: The Ultimate Collection ~ Michael Jackson
5. Number Ones ~ Michael Jackson
6. Dangerous ~ Michael Jackson
7. The Essential Michael Jackson ~ Michael Jackson
8. The Ultimate Collection ~ Jackson 5
9. Michael Jackson - Vol. 1-Greatest Hits History ~ Michael Jackson
10. Invincible ~ Michael Jackson
11. HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I ~ Michael Jackson (Artist)
12. Michael Jackson 25th Anniversary of Thriller (Deluxe Casebook Edition) ~ Michael Jackson
13. Blood on the Dance Floor: History in the Mix ~ Michael Jackson
14. Michael Jackson 25th Anniversary of Thriller ~ Michael Jackson
15. Thriller ~ Michael Jackson

Friday, June 26, 2009

Michael Jackson dies at 50.

I was born in 1981. Thriller was released in 1982. One of my earliest memories is probably sitting around the house watching this on a homemade VHS tape recorded from MTV:



A lot of people in Metafilter's obituary thread are making comments like this, which it's hard to disagree with:

My brain has never been able to reconcile that the Michael Jackson of my 80s youth and the more recent freakshow Michael were the same person. I mean, I absolutely have a complete mental disconnect there. So for me, Michael Jackson, he of some of the best pop ever created, has been dead for at least 20 years. And the guy who died today is just some guy who lived a weird life and probably should never have been allowed within 100 feet of anyone under the age of 18. I'm kind of glad that guy is gone now, so maybe I can think of the other guy more fondly.
I wrote this in my blog post called "Where are the rock stars of the 2000s?":
In the '80s, ... you had Madonna, Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen, ... who didn't just sell tons of records but made a genuine cultural impact in their time. Does anyone who made it big in this decade (and actually makes good music) even come close?
And another Metafilter commenter (interestingly named "Afroblanco") elaborates on that point:
I don't know if anyone has attained that sort of cultural ubiquity since. I remember that Madonna was up there for a while, although she was always a bit more .... adult. More corporeal. Something about Michael was always unreal. Like he wasn't a person, but a god, an idea, a cartoon, a series of images projected onto your mind and in your ears and on everybody's lunchbox and t-shirt and posters on their bedroom walls. The weirdest thing about the 80s was that everybody thought it was normal at the time.
Outside of his music, it's unfortunately much easier to think of bizarre and mostly negative things about Michael Jackson than the positive. It's all so well known that there's not much point in me trying to sum it up one more time. One heart-warming thing to remember about the end of his life: he modified his will earlier this year to leave 50% of the royalties to the Lennon/McCartney songs to the person who should have owned them in the first place, his former friend Paul McCartney.

Is there any other celebrity in recent memory who's been as weird, as complex, or as electrifying as Michael Jackson? I can't think of any.



Thursday, June 25, 2009

Is the new tobacco regulation law a model for drug legalization?

William Saletan think so. The gist of the argument he makes in that Slate article is: the tobacco law Obama just signed aims at "harm reduction" through regulation rather than outright prohibition of tobacco products; therefore, we should do the same thing with currently illegal drugs. Though he doesn't mention any specific illegal drugs in his whole article about them, I presume he'd like to see marijuana, LSD, cocaine, and even heroin legalized and regulated.

Here are a few of my half-formed objections to this analogy:

1. The regulation is dealing with the pre-existing problem of tens of millions of Americans being hooked on cigarettes. Of course Saletan is right that you couldn't just prohibit them and turn all Americans, or even the vast majority, into non-smokers overnight. But why is it that so many people are smokers already? A big part of it is that cigarettes are legal. The fact that something's illegal makes it a lot costlier to engage in; thus, many people will choose not to do it because, even without any sincere moral qualms about using drugs or even breaking the law, they simple aren't willing to bear the costs (which include paying more money, risking legal consequences, etc.).

If you read Saletan's article, you'll see that he's very skilled at creating a sense that anyone thinking rationally about the situation must conclude that legalization/regulation is the solution to America's drug problem. But this is far from obvious, and it's really hard to test the theory without actually putting it into practice. I'm sure that heroin could be regulated to be less harmful, and that this would benefit some people -- but since it could also lead to some people using heroin who wouldn't have done so otherwise, it's not clear that there would be a net benefit. Somewhere along the line, you'd be sacrificing one person's health (the person who gets hooked on legal heroin but would never have touched illegal heroin) for someone else's (the current junkie).

2. It's easy to take this moment in 2009, right when this law is signed, to point out how rational it is. But you can't assume that if drugs were legalized, they'd be well-regulated right off the bat. The federal government first officially recognized the deadly nature of cigarettes in 1964; it took decades to get to this point.

3. Saletan seems to assume that the new regulations will be effective. I hope they are, but it's good to be cautious when predicting the consequences of a radical change in the law that's ultimately aimed at changing human behavior. As one of the commenters on Saletan's article points out, there are already "mild" and "light" cigarettes, and they've been empirically shown to cause as much harm as non-light cigarettes. That's because, while they may have less bad stuff per cigarette, smokers compensate by smoking more of them, or smoking each one more intensely. It's hard enough to predict the effects of regulating cigarettes; why should we assume that drug regulation would be effective? Even if the regulations are intelligently written, swiftly enacted, and vigorously enforced (all of which are open to question), how do we know that purer, safer drugs wouldn't encourage people to use more of them? And any regulation that makes the drugs milder could lead to the same compensating behavior as with light cigarettes -- again, increased use.

This is all wild speculation on my part; I might be wrong on many of these points. Supporters of legalization, on the other hand, often try to create the impression that they know regulation would be effective. I don't think anyone knows that.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Worst car ad ever

This one, clipped from Craigslist.


UPDATE: There are comments over here. I wish I had used one of the comments as the heading of this post: "Apparently it was one sweet ride."

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

"Despicable details from Iran"

The New Republic highlights the bolded paragraph below, from a Wall St. Journal report on Iran:

On Saturday, amid the most violent clashes between security forces and protesters, [19-year-old Kaveh] Alipour was shot in the head as he stood at an intersection in downtown Tehran. He was returning from acting class and a week shy of becoming a groom, his family said....

Upon learning of his son's death, the elder Mr. Alipour was told the family had to pay an equivalent of $3,000 as a "bullet fee"—a fee for the bullet used by security forces—before taking the body back, relatives said.

Mr. Alipour told officials that his entire possessions wouldn't amount to $3,000, arguing they should waive the fee because he is a veteran of the Iran-Iraq war. According to relatives, morgue officials finally agreed, but demanded that the family do no funeral or burial in Tehran.
The detail has certainly caught the attention of the blogosphere.

Let's remember how much science we don't know.

A lot.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Doodles!

On this well-done website called Doodlers Anonymous. (Via Metafilter.)

The site led me to this brilliant collection of doodles by "Jancko." What's so great about it? Each one is drawn on a tiny disposable pouch, which happens to have three cartoonish hearts on it. Apparently, he's a regular at a restaurant that offers the pouches, and he always picks one up. There are over 100 such doodles, all formed around the three hearts.

As the Doodlers Anonymous entry says, "restriction can spark creativity." Limitations are liberating.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Happy Father's Day

~~~

(Photo of me and my dad, by my mom.)

Friday, June 19, 2009

Regina Spektor's new album, Far

You can listen to the whole thing here.

My opinion on first listen: a big step down from her last two albums. I'm not hearing any songs on the level of "Fidelity," "Better," "Samson," "The Flowers," or "Us." It's not bad, but you can hear her trying too self-consciously to recapture the magic that used to seem to flow effortlessly out of her, like this:

Thursday, June 18, 2009

50 ways to mess with people's minds

Here's the list, which distills this book.

Highlights:

- You can get someone to go along with you by offering any rationale, even a meaningless one. In an experiment, researchers approached customers waiting in line to use a copier at Kinko's. If the researcher just asked the customer, "Can I go ahead of you?," the customer would let him do it only about a quarter of the time. If the researcher instead asked, "Can I go ahead of you, because I need to make some copies?," the customer would almost always let him do it -- even though that rationale made no sense, as everyone was in line to make copies. The post repeats the book's conclusion that the word "because" has a magic power, but the experiment doesn't seem to prove that; maybe any rationale added to a request has the same effect.

- A hotel sign that encourages people to reuse towels will be more successful if it says that guests who've stayed in that specific room reuse their hotel towels, than if it just says guests who've stayed in the same hotel reuse the towels, even though this makes no rational difference. There are many ways you could interpret this finding, but the post says the lesson is: "Introduce herd effect in highly personalized form."

- A waiter who parrots customers' orders will make 70% more in tips than one who doesn't. This has widespread application -- probably to almost any setting where human beings are verbally interacting. By paraphrasing someone's own statements back to them, you can signal that you're understanding them and taking them seriously.

- "People like the sound of their name, and that defines their vocation. There are three times as many dentists named Dennis as any other names." I guess Dwight Schrute was right after all (see the end of this post).

- "A faster-working brain under the influence of caffeine seems to appreciate good arguments."

Monday, June 15, 2009

Free will: the horse and the engine

I'm planning to do a few posts on the problem of free will. It's a daunting topic to even begin to talk about, partly because it touches on everything you do in your life, and also because it's one of those philosophy problems that's been debated for thousands of years with no consensus; what are the odds that your attempt to solve it is going to be convincing?

One of my professors in law school made this comment to introduce a case we were going to study that day: "When the Supreme Court granted cert, most people agreed that this was a very easy case. They just couldn't agree on whether it was an easy reversal or any easy affirmance" (the two possible outcomes). The free will problem is like that. Everyone thinks the answer is so easy and obvious it's hardly worth talking about. The problem is, people have that feeling equally strongly on both sides (or should I say on all three sides?) ... so maybe it's not so simple.

Before I get into the substance of the debate, I want to share a passage that's not explicitly about free will, though the author later connects it to free will. This story dates back to the 19th century, when a new railway had been built in Germany:

When it reached the village of a certain enlightened pastor, he took his people to where a locomotive engine was standing, and in the clearest words explained of what parts it consisted and how it worked. He was much pleased by their eager nods of intelligence as he proceeded.
But on his finishing they said: "Yes, yes, Herr Pastor, but there's a horse inside, isn't there?" ...
It is ... a great effort to think of all the parts working together to produce the simple result that the engine glides down the track. It is easy to think of a horse inside doing all the work. A horse is a familiar totality that does familiar things.*
I find it interesting that he uses this anecdote to leverage his "compatibilist" position on free will. By "compatibilist," I mean he believes we have free will, but it coexists with determinism. But you could just as well use the horse anecdote as a criticism of philosophers who aren't comfortable introducing free will into our picture of the world unless determinism remains intact. After all, for us in the scientific age, the idea of a deterministic machine is a "familiar totality that does familiar things."

* This is from an essay by R.E. Hobert (a pseudonym for Dickinson S. Miller, who I've never heard of either) called "Free Will as Involving Determination and Inconceivable Without It," from the anthology Metaphysics: The Big Questions, and originally appearing in Mind in 1934; the anecdote in turn comes from Friedrich Paulsen. I've added line breaks for readability.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

"The growing phenomenon of Internet"

A Canadian TV news report, apparently from the early '90s (via Matthew Yglesias):



The main guy who's interviewed is surprisingly perceptive/prescient about online human behavior, considering how long ago this aired.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The 2 most overused chord progressions in pop music today

A list of 10 overused chord progressions -- and a manifesto -- in this post on everything2.com by "chrisjh," a music undergrad:

While certainly some of these chord progressions were revolutionary and are still key in reproducing some of today's most classic genres, we'd still like certain genres of music to move forward.... I have a feeling that although new chord progressions might sound weird at first, with enough use we'd easily attach an emotion or mood to them, just as we did to the blues and to the 50's bebop progression--I bet if the 4 chord blues were played in the 17th century, everyone'd think it was odd and dissonant crap.
Here are the two chord progressions that I think have become most worn-out in the popular music of the last few years (the first of which is in chrisjh's list):

Progression #1

 I - V - vi - IV. If you're in the key of C, this is C - G - A minor - F.

A prototypical example is U2's "With or Without You":



Someone asked about this progression in this AskMetafilter thread, which contains some detailed analyses (including mine). That thread links to this YouTube clip that brilliantly reveals the monotony of so much popular music:



The progression certainly has its place. In "With or Without You" and "Let It Be," it's beautiful. I also like it in the songs by Michael Jackson, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Bush in that clip -- all from at least 15 years ago. But recently, this chord progression and the next one have so thoroughly infected pop music that I can't take today's top 40 seriously.

Progression #2

i - VI - III - VII. In the key of A minor, this is A minor - F - C - G.

Here's a whole article about it, which calls it the "Sensitive Female Chord Progression" and suggests that you can identify it by trying to sing Joan Osborne's "One of Us" over it:



Progressions #1 and #2 are very closely related. You can derive either one from the other by starting halfway into one of them (i.e. starting with the 3rd of the 4 chords) and looping back to the begin.

Between these two chord progressions, you can easily write a whole radio station's worth of hits -- as long as you don't mind if music stays in the same place rather than evolving. Even when an artist as respectable as Regina Spektor uses these progressions (#1 in "On the Radio," #2 in her new "Blue Lips"), the result is wearying.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Senate passes bill to let FDA regulate tobacco.

I'm finding this hard to believe -- it sounds almost too rational to be true:

The Senate approved landmark legislation today that would give the government sweeping new power to oversee tobacco . . . .

For the first time, the $89 billion tobacco industry would have to disclose the ingredients in its products. Under the new authority, the FDA could ban the most harmful of the estimated 6,000 chemicals used in cigarettes, cigars and other tobacco products. And it could reduce the amount of nicotine, perhaps to a point where tobacco is no longer addictive and smokers who want to quit can break free more easily. The legislation requires tobacco companies to expand the size of warning labels and include graphic images of the health effects of tobacco.

Advertising and promotion will also would be restricted. Tobacco manufacturers would be unable to use the terms "light," "mild" and "low" unless they can scientifically prove that the product so labeled is less harmful than standard tobacco.

3 things about "socialized medicine"

Observed by Ezra Klein in this useful blog post:

1. Many Americans have no idea what it means. The most egregious example is that about 30% think HMOs are socialized medicine. Also, when people are asked whether the Veteran's Health Administration and/or Medicare are socialized medicine, their answers are worse than if everyone were to guess by flipping a coin.

2. Klein's theory: "Socialized medicine has become such a stand-in for 'not this system of medicine' that it's begun to look good in comparison."

3. Klein has "literally never heard a proposal for converting America to a socialized system of medicine." He adds: "And I know a lot of liberals."

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Why psychology isn't a science

Writing in Psychology Today, Norman N. Holland explains:

The problem comes from the very effort to be scientific. . . . [P]sychological experiments tend to get more and more specific. Experimenters will use exactly defined methods and procedures. They will use highly specific statistical tests appropriate to the experiment at hand. They may select subjects with very special characteristics. All this is, of course, quite appropriate in a discipline seeking to be scientific. But the end result is a teeny, tiny conclusion that cannot be added to other experiments with differently specific subjects, different statistical tests, different methods and procedures. No cumulation. No science....

When I ask my psychology students, What major conclusions about the human mind can you draw from contemporary psychological research?, I draw a blank....

Scientific psychology becomes unscientific because it is dealing with mind, and mind does not lend itself to experimental precision.
Sounds about right. I took a few psychology courses in college, and I was struck by how free the instructors were in stating their random opinions about life as if they were scientific facts. One professor told our class that each one of us in the room could potentially be a victim of a violently abusive relationship, and stay in it on a long-term basis. How could anyone possibly know that?

Monday, June 8, 2009

What news is the American media "worst at covering"?

The New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof asks the question, and gives his answer:

I would argue that it’s public health. One problem is that we tend to cover things that happen on a particular day, and public health challenges usually unfold every day — so they’re never really considered news. Conversely, we’re at our best covering politics and governments, particularly the decisions that are made on a particular day, because they have drama as well as consequences. They feel like news, in a way that a million people dying annually of malaria does not.
See the comments on that post for lots of answers.

It's an inherently hard question to answer since, by definition, poorly covered subjects are ones you wish you knew more about. But here are my answers:

1. Supreme Court (and other appellate) decisions. The media seems generally competent at legal reporting of pre-trial procedure and trials. But the media will report the latest Supreme Court decision as if it affected only the parties in that case. In reality, those parties are relatively insignificant; the broader legal principles are more important. The media seems to think that the latter are too abstract, hypothetical, or academic to be worth reporting.

2. Long-term war. Once it became clear that the Iraq War was going to be a lot harder and longer than people expected, the New York Times and the Washington Post (my two main sources for news) became obsessed with keeping track of how any given month compared with past months in terms of American casualties. I don't mean to disrespect the casualties, but from reading the NYT or WaPo you'd think the war mattered only to the extent it affected American troops. Also, the focus on ranking the different months is completely arbitrary.

3. Stuff going on in foreign countries that isn't (a) a humanitarian disaster or (b) directly, obviously relevant to our national interest.

4. Political campaigns. There's a vicious circle going on here. The media is ready to pounce on the slightest arguable misstep by candidates or people associated with them. This causes the candidates to be more and more cautious in everything they say and do, which causes them to be more and more phony. This, in turn, causes the media and the public to feel starved for any evidence that the candidates are real, fallible human beings, which causes them to pounce on the candidates' missteps, etc.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Music Friday: 4 more covers

For the third Friday in a row, here are 4 adventurous covers. (You can go to all of them by clicking the "covers" tag.)

9. Ben Folds covers...



...The Postal Service.




10. Tori Amos covers...



...Nirvana.




11. Dr. Fox's Old Timey String Band covers...



MGMT. (Blogged previously.)




12. Brad Mehldau covers...



...Radiohead.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The time-management theory of appreciating art and thought

LemmusLemmus swiftly refutes Ayn Rand's philosophy in this post on his blog, The Church of Rationality. 

I've never read Ayn Rand. And now that I've read that blog post, I feel fine about missing out on her work. Is that ignorant or close-minded of me?

Well, LemmusLemmus goes on to say:

And that's it with Ayn Rand and me. Of course I could read all of her books and see whether she has addressed this rather obvious objection anywhere, but given that time is a scarce resource I prefer to spend mine on stuff that promises to be more worthwhile. The fact that pretty much everyone acts like this is the reason that most people who call someone's work overrated aren't terribly qualified to make that judgment.
This is the same point I quoted from a Metafilter commenter in the post about "simple concepts":
By the time you have paid enough attention to a work of art to know whether it was a waste of time to take seriously, it is already too late for the answer to be useful.
I also made this point in my post about "my problem with rap":
I have a finite amount of free time in my life for listening to new music. Like every other person in the world, I can't build up an encyclopedic familiarity with every music genre in existence, so the most I can do is thoroughly explore some of them while writing off others as not worth my time. That's a time-management strategy, not an objective judgment. I'm sure there's brilliant rap music that I'm missing out on. (I loved the Outkast song "Miss Jackson" from a few years ago, for instance.) But I've heard enough from rappers about "bitches," "hos," and "niggers" to decide: my time would be better spent on music that might not make a single controversial statement about society but is challenging to the listener in more unexpected ways.
For the sake of simplicity, from now on I'll refer to this general observation as "the time-management theory of appreciating art and thought."

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

"Are you going to blog about Sonia Sotomayor?"

A friend of mine asked me that. My answer: not really. I just have a couple things to say, and then I don't find Sotomayor worth blogging about anymore. She's obviously going to be confirmed, and -- contrary to what the media would like us to believe -- it's futile to try to figure out what kinds of decisions she'd make on the highest court based on any available sources (even her lower-court opinions, let alone her public statements).

I share Will Wilkinson's response:

God, I hate politics. It really does make people stupid, especially those whose tribe is out of power. When Sonia Sotomayor was nominated, I knew nothing relevant about her judicial philosophy or, much more importantly, about her actual record as a judge. You’d think you’d wait to learn something about this before saying something about her, but no. People just proceeded to go crazy on cue.
This is yet another example of the mainstream media's bias in favor of heavily reporting on the most strident, soundbite-ready commentary being made by public figures -- from "empathy!" to "judicial activism!" to "racist!" and so on. I'm hardly the first person to observe that these memes drown out any kind of serious, subtle discussion of what matters.

Blogger of the Day: Tiny Art Director, the cutest art blog in the world

The blog: Tiny Art Director.

The concept: The tiny art director is a 4-year-old girl, and her dad is the artist. The text is the tiny art director's instructions to her dad about what to draw/paint ("The Brief"), followed by her response to the artworks.

A sample:

The Brief: A dinosaur in a X-Ray

The Critique: I just want to see a little mousey in his tummy

Job Status: Approved (after addition of mousey)

Additional Comments: That's what kind of bones dogs like to chew on. Dinosaur leg bones.
The picture: here.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Remembering George Tiller

A commenter on Metafilter reminisces about Dr. George Tiller:

[M]y wife and I spent a week in Dr. Tiller's care after we learned our 21 week fetus had a severe defect incompatible with life. The laws in our state prevented us from ending the pregnancy there, and Dr. Tiller was one of maybe three choices in the whole nation at that gestational age.

My wife just called with the news of his murder, weeping.

I can't really come up with some profound political statement just now, so let me just list some memories of Dr. Tiller.

-I remember him firmly stating that he regarded the abortion debate in the US to be about the control of women's sexuality and reproduction.

-I remember he spent over six hours in one-on-one care with my wife when there was concern she had an infection. We're talking about a physician here. Six hours.

-He told the story of his previous shooting, where a woman shot him twice in both arms as he drove out of his clinic. At first he wanted to run her down with his Jeep, but then he thought "she shot you already George, she'll do it again!"

-I remember being puzzled about a T-shirt he was wearing, which said "Happy Birthday Jennifer from team Tiller!" or something similar. Turns out it comemmorated the birthday of a fifteen year old girl who was raped, became pregnant, and came to Tiller for an abortion. As luck would have it, she was in the clinic the same week as her birthday. So the clinic threw her a party.

-The walls of the clinic reception and waiting room are literally covered with letters from patients thanking him. Some were heartbreaking - obviously young and/or poorly educated people thanking Dr. Tiller for being there when they had no other options, explaining their family, church etc. had abandoned them.

-I remember my wife, foggy with sedation after the final procedure, being helped from the exam table. He had her sit up and put her arms around his neck, and then he lifted her into a wheelchair.

"You give good hugs" she whispered.

He paused just for a moment.

"You're just fine," he told her.

Americans with health insurance pay a "hidden tax" to cover the uninsured.

In 2008, premiums were $1,000 higher for families, and over $350 higher for single individuals, to make up for what uninsured Americans didn't pay for health care they received.

This was on top of billions spent by government and charities.

The uninsured themselves paid just 37%.

(Via Jonathan Cohn's health care blog, The Treatment, at TNR.)

Monday, June 1, 2009

17 online dating profile cliches that women should avoid

I’ve spent plenty of time on dating websites. So, as a public service, I’m going to tell you what I’ve noticed a lot of women saying in their profiles that is probably not a good idea.

Disclaimer: I specify that these are cliches for "women" to avoid only because they’re the ones whose profiles I've looked at. I'm not saying men don't make the same mistakes; I'm simply not qualified to judge their profiles.

1. "Attractive, interesting, intelligent, active, fun, funny, sweet, simple," and other such generic adjectives to describe yourself or who you’re looking for. One or two of these might be OK, but a whole string of these adjectives is not really describing yourself. You’re just describing how everyone wants to be perceived. The worst adjectives are "loyal," "spontaneous," "open-minded," and "laid-back." Does anyone ever use those words to describe themselves or others aside from on dating sites? "Oh, she’s really spontaneous!" No one talks like that in real life.

girl peering out of Bloody Mary2. “I love music, travel, sports, the outdoors, movies, shopping, drinking, going out." Again, there’s nothing wrong with any one of these on its own. Any one of those could be great with some more detail. But a list like this is so generic as to be almost meaningless.

3. Three seemingly off-beat things that everyone claims to be interested in: "road trips," "dive bars," and "sarcasm." These could be perfectly fine details to mention -- except for the fact that everyone mentions them. As a result, it becomes hard to believe that everyone is so enamored of these things; they just sound good in a dating profile. It’s like the cook who garnishes every meal with a sprig of parsley out of habit. You don't especially want people to eat the parsley -- you’re just putting it there because it's a foolproof way to make the dish look nice. If you’re going to mention "dive bars" or "road trips," it’d be a good idea to be more specific: which bar or destination have you particularly enjoyed recently, and why? As far as "sarcasm," it’s probably better just to use it rather than mention it.

4. "Sometimes I like to go out, and sometimes I like to stay in." Is there anyone who couldn’t say this? Sure, it might not be true of hermits or agoraphobics. But it's true of just about everyone else. Another cliche that should be banned for the same reason: "Comfortable in a t-shirt and jeans or an evening gown." I understand what this line is meant to convey, but it's been overused to the point of meaninglessness.

5. "Friends and family are very important to me." That describes just about everyone. That's the point of friends and family. Even if you write this sentence with the most heartfelt emotion, it doesn't say anything about you.

6. "Love to laugh / love to have fun." The definition of the word "fun" is that it’s something people enjoy. And it’s hard to imagine someone who finds it unpleasant to laugh.

7. "I can’t believe I’m doing this! / My friend told me about this site, so I thought I’d try it out," etc. The fact that you're posting a personal ad is the one thing that can't possibly distinguish yourself from anyone else on there. You don't need to make excuses for why you're on a dating site. You probably have the same reason everyone else has: because it makes dating more convenient. Skip the apologies and move on to what makes you different from other people.

8. "My friends say . . ." No, we want to know what you have to say. If you're not sure whether your friends are right, then it’s not worth including in your ad. The "friends" line just makes you seem evasive, as if you want to be free to put potentially misleading information that you can never be called on because hey, that wasn’t you saying it -- it was just your friends!

9. "Looking for someone who can put together a complete sentence / someone who uses correct grammar and punctuation." There's nothing inherently wrong with this, but it’s clearly a preference of every woman in the world (aside from those who themselves can’t put together a complete sentence).

10. "Looking for someone at least 6 feet tall." Do you really want to limit yourself to 15% of the male population? Are you sure you’d reject someone who’s 5'11" -- even if he’s intelligent, attractive, interesting, and successful? Also, consider how you’d react to a man’s profile that said he’s not interested in women over a specific body-mass index or under a specific bra size. If your reaction would be, "Ugh, how shallow!" . . . then think twice about specifying height.

11. "Looking for Prince Charming / my knight in shining armor / someone who slays dragons." How did we get to the Middle Ages all of a sudden? You might as well just say: “I’m living in a fantasy world.” And a pretty cliched fantasy world at that.

12. "I’m tired of drama / games." Two strikes against this one: (1) it’s plagiarized from a million other profiles, and (2) it's code for "I still have lingering feelings of resentment about past relationships." Keep your relationship baggage out of your profile.

13. "I hate liars." Really? How odd -- I love them!

14. "It doesn’t matter what you’re passionate about, as long as you’re passionate about something." This might be a mildly impressive insight . . . if it didn't appear in about half the dating profiles out there. Also, would you like me to set you up with a passionate white supremacist?

15. "I like all kinds of music." I doubt that you're typing these words while an atonal composition by Schoenberg is playing in the background. The truth is that you like some kinds of music, but not others. Everyone does. "I like all kinds of music" is a red flag that you're afraid to share anything about yourself.

16. "Looking for a partner in crime." This is adorable . . . the first time you read it. And maybe the second or third time. Once you've read it 100 times, not so much.

17. "I work hard and play hard." Same problem as "partner in crime." You’re clearly not working hard at coming up with your own words to describe yourself.

Look back over your profile and see what happens if you delete all the cliches I've listed. If your response is: "Hey, I can't do that, or there'd hardly be any profile left" . . . then that suggests you haven't really expressed yourself, which is all the more reason to overhaul your profile.

So please, tell me about the album you've been listening to every day, or something interesting about the last place you traveled to. But don’t just tell me you like music and travel. Be specific, and -- if you’ll forgive the cliche -- be yourself.


(Photo by Ian Broyles.)

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