Tag Archives: diversity

Capgras and the President

Pascal Boyer has a brilliant post up at the International Cognition and Culture Institute blog on the psychology of birtherism — the belief that “Barack Obama was not born a U.S. citizen.” He likens it to the psychiatric condition of Capgras Syndrome, which manifests itself as the persistent belief that one’s family and friends have been replaced by replicas, clones, aliens, spies, or some other form of impostor.

Capgras happens when people’s ability to recognize others emotionally, as well as visually, breaks down. When I see Mr. Improbable — or even Milo — I’m not only processing visual input, I’m having an emotional reaction to seeing the man (or dog) I know and love; Boyer describes it as a “specific emotional signature.” Without that signature, all I am seeing is a man who looks exactly like my husband, but who stirs in me none of the feelings that I associate with him. Hence, my brain conjures an explanation, however bizarre, to explain the discrepancy between my eyes and my heart.

Turning to birtherism, Boyer writes:

[I]n the spirit of a pop psychology of the masses, let me offer the diagnosis that a large segment of the US population may be experiencing something somewhat similar to the Capgras delusion. That is, when they switch on their TVs and watch the news, they see someone who has all the trappings of a President, acts like a President, lives where the President lives, is treated by everybody as the President, signs bills like the President, gives a State of the Union address to Congress every year like the President? But these people at the same time have a clear and vivid intuition that:

This man is not the President

Now, once you have the intuition, in the same way as in Capgras, all sorts of strange beliefs may seem almost plausible, if they provide a good explanation for why this particular person, with all the right details, still does not quite ring true. In the “two-step model”, Capgras patients come up with alien abductions and suchlike to account for the Unheimlichkeit of their situation. More reasonably (these things are relative), the birthers come up with a conspiracy that this particular American is a Kenyan, that he forged his birth-certificate, that he made up an entire family history, that the entire world media agreed to cover all this up.

Interestingly, Boyer doesn’t attribute the gut feeling that Obama cannot be President to simple racism. Although he doesn’t say it, he implies that a more stereotypically “black” President might cause less dissonance in the public mind. Barack Hussein Obama, by contrast, is biracial, with some family roots in the Muslim world; has a deeper academic background and less political experience than nearly any other president; and generally tends to confound categories and stereotypes.

I think Boyer’s point may well be right for a core of true-believer birthers. I have to wonder if some people feel unsure of the President’s citizenship not because they are fully convinced by birther arguments, nor because they cannot have what they think of as an appropriately presidential emotional reaction to Barack Obama, but simply because the media continues to report on the story. Without having the time, ability, or motivation to research the president’s citizenship, many folks may not have a strong opinion one way or the other, but assume that if there is smoke — as there continues to be, and will be until the end of Mr. Obama’s presidency — that there must be some fire, somewhere.

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St. Patrick’s Day

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, readers. If you are of Irish descent, how do you feel about St. Patrick’s Day? I ask because I got this truncated letter last week–

I read with interest the recent letter from a “true blond” who resented all the dumb blond jokes. I am of Irish descent and I resent the mockery that is made of St. Patrick’s Day. Americans seem to feel that they can drink and party with wild abandon on that day. They make blatant fun of the Irish as a people who get drunk and uneducated. This is far from true. As St Patrick’s day rolls around again, I want to crawl into

Sadly, we’ll never know what our Irish friend wants to crawl into. I think we can safely assume it’s either shame-based or regressive.

What are your thoughts St.P.D.? I’m not a fan of amateur-drunkenness holidays, although I no more blame the actual Irish for this any more than I blame Pope Gregory for New Year’s. I expect I’d hate it a good deal more if it were based on some Ukrainian saint, and people were vomiting cheap vodka on their blue and yellow sweatshirts. Then again, maybe I’d see it in good spirit and think, “Hey, everyone wants to be Ukrainian for a day! Lighten up!”

What about you?

UPDATE: St. Patrick’s Day, boo, from an Irish-American Bostonian. St. Patrick’s Day, yay, Guinness-braised corned beef from Melissa at NuVal.

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Handshakes, pot, and chickens

Dan Ariely, behavioral economist and all-around mensch, has a post up about the advantages of “handshake” agreements — contracts that do not have exhaustive thoroughness as their goal.

Even lawyers see the risks of complete contracts. As part of my research, I asked the dean of Duke’s law school, David Levi, if I could take a look at the school’s honor code. Expecting a detailed contract written by lawyers for lawyers, I was shocked to find that the code went something like this: If a student does anything the faculty doesn’t approve of, the student won’t be allowed to take the bar exam. It was, in essence, a handshake agreement!

“Imagine that a student decides to deal drugs and raise chickens in his apartment,” Levi said. “Now suppose that our code of conduct bans many activities but doesn’t address pot or chickens. The student has honored the code. But does Duke really want that student to become a lawyer?”

Complete contracts are inevitably imperfect. So what’s better: a complete contract that mutates goodwill into legal trickery, or an incomplete contract that rests on the understanding we share of appropriate and inappropriate behavior?

Dan’s logic is sound (more on the dean’s in a moment), but the rub lies in his phrase “the understanding we share.” Handshake agreements work to the extent that there are shared norms of behavior. But even assuming the greatest goodwill in the world, there are different styles of handshakes. “Diversity” doesn’t only mean intriguing variations in skin color, appealingly displayed like the bridge of the Enterprise or a Benneton ad. Diversity may mean fundamentally different beliefs about time, personal responsibility, power and authority. These different assumptions, if unaddressed, can cause things to go sideways despite the best efforts of the people involved.

As far as the dean’s point is concerned, I disagree. When one is speaking of a dorm room, either pot or chickens might create insurmountable logistical problems, but neither are ethically problematic. In fact, a person raising either one would of necessity develop a patience, an attention to detail, a sense of humor, and a humility by which many lawyers might be improved.

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National Coming Out Day

Today is National Coming Out Day, not to be confused with Columbus, or “National Coming Over” Day.

I’ve generally made it clear that Miss Conduct is a gay ally. But I haven’t ever come straight out and said it. So today, I am coming out as an unapologetic ally. I am in favor of gay rights and gay marriage and the full equality of gay folk everywhere. And I’m sorry if, at any point, I’ve let my commitment to diversity and politeness ever mask the strength of that conviction.

Because I think it has. I’ve tried to respect other people’s discomfort around gay rights. But I can’t bring myself to get very concerned about that these days. Here’s the bottom line: I can’t respect any beliefs other than that of the full dignity and worth of gay people and their relationships. If you don’t believe in that, I can still respect your character, your sense of humor, your honesty, your generosity, whatever. But I am finished with trying to pretend as though the belief that homosexuality is wrong, or that gay people shouldn’t have full legal rights, is a different but reasonable perspective. It isn’t.

If you believe homosexuality is wrong, or are opposed to gay marriage,

… then you are the ones who have to explain the subtle difference between “not hating someone” and denying them their civil rights.

You are the ones who have to explain why violence bothers you less than the expressions of love and individuality that “provoke” it.

You are the ones who have to explain how giving one group of people their civil rights can hurt another group.

You are the ones who have to explain why your personal religion or morality should be the law, and mine should not.

You are the ones who have to explain what, exactly, gay people are supposed to do under your system. Lie about “roommates”? Be celibate for life? Make a genuine mockery of marriage by marrying a beard — or an unsuspecting and in-love straight person?

It is the person who is making the extraordinary claim who needs to produce extraordinary evidence. I’m not going to pretend that the claim of gay equality is the extraordinary one anymore. Those who deny it are the ones who are making the extraordinary claims, not me. They are the ones who have to explain themselves.

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How they see us

Hat tip to Mr. Improbable for introducing me, with typical American informality, to this “global portal for diplomats” and its advice about U.S. cultural customs.

I think this one is hilarious, because it is so true:

People who like to touch really like touching, and people who do not like to touch really dislike being touched. You will need to watch your colleagues for clues on what they are comfortable with.

… and I like this one for the alternate perspective it inherently embodies:

Do not be afraid of hurting someone’s feelings by responding “no” to an invitation. People will be offended if you say you will attend and then do not come.

Which ones struck you?

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Food rules

Christmas was quite delightful this year (the belatedness of the annual Mystery Milo notwithstanding). We had a good group of folks with us, and “Sherlock Holmes” certainly didn’t disappoint as far as holiday escapism, and the uncanny desirability of Robert Downey Jr., were concerned.

The only part that made me slightly unhappy was when we went to Changsho for dinner afterward. We got the big table with the lazy susan — does anything speak of joy and inclusiveness more than the big table with the lazy susan in a Chinese restaurant, I ask you — and sure enough, I was That Person who had to take her entree off the lazy susan and hoard it to herself, because I couldn’t share what anyone else had ordered.

I’m going to be That Person for a while, it seems. Essentially, there is more bad acid floating around in my gastrointestinal system than at a Grateful Dead tribute band concert, and I need to change a lot of eating habits fast. After a couple of months, when things calm down, I should be able to have the occasional quesadilla or slice of pizza.

But until then, I’m one of Those People, those people who can’t share. I can break bread with you, but that’s about it. Oh, and those fabulous Ugly Wintry Mix cocktails you all came up with? Yep. None of those, either. Which means I might now encounter Mr. or Ms. Pushytipples of my own, now that I’m not drinking much. (Or, more likely in my case, Mr. or Ms. Terribly-Concerned. I can have a drink occasionally — very occasionally — and while I appreciate being warned of things like unexpected rum in eggnog and habaneros in the queso dip, I also appreciate being treated like an adult. I am at the moment eternally grateful to one of the Fabulous Bureaucrats, whom I had dinner with two days after my diagnosis, and who unblinkingly sat through my dithering about whether or not ketchup was on my new list of forbidden foods, as well as my consumption of two glasses of white wine. The FB in question knows me well enough to know that I can’t change all my habits overnight, but change they will when I set my mind to it.)

Before all of this mishegoss went down, of course, I knew that food and identity were deeply linked, as were food and sociability: it’s pretty much what the food chapter of my book is about. But having to make a lot of changes, fast, brings certain issues into even sharper perspective.

For one thing, there was this brilliant you-know-you’re-middle-aged-when moment a few weeks ago, when I met a friend at Casablanca for a cocktail-hour business meeting. He immediately apologized and said he couldn’t eat, because he had a colonoscopy the next day; I, of course, couldn’t drink, as I have gastritis. (We ordered hot waters, he shared his broth with me, and we left a really good tip.) Not sharing food turns out to be as good a bonding experience as sharing it, though I doubt restaurateurs would agree.

It’s also been interesting to see how many of my friends with a strong ethnic identity have been quick to share recipes from their own cuisine with me. I’m not just appreciating their food; I need it. Their Greek, Bosnian, Filipino, Russian recipes will save me from my own sick body and restore me to health.

So in at least two cases, having restrictive food rules has brought me closer to people who either have similar — permanent or temporary — restrictions, or people whose ethnic identity is complemented and complimented by what I can eat. I’m sure I’ll run into others, as time goes on: people who disbelieve in my condition, or the way my doctors and I are treating it; people who will take it as a personal affront that I cannot eat or drink their particular favorite food; people who, one way or the other, make my biological condition into some kind of metaphor of rejection, perhaps rejection of something they hold dear.

Yesterday’s “Coupling” addressed that, from the perspective of a food consultant/chef who finds it impossible to form relationships with men who have food rules. She writes, “Gradually, I realized that a willingness to try new foods spoke to a person’s general openness to the world and new experiences.”

It may. Or it may speak to a person’s number of taste buds, or to their immune system or bowel functioning. Our bodily processes may be a metaphor for deeper psychological issues — or they may simply be the sometimes working, sometimes on-the-fritz results of a complicated and frankly klugey system. (No offense, but how anyone over the age of 25 can believe in Intelligent Design is beyond me. Wait ’til your knees start going and see how intelligently you think you were designed then, kid.)

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Latkes, here I come

I was planning to blog today about your awesome comments on my “holiday joys and woes” post, and how although Hanukkah doesn’t do it for me on any level, what you wrote helped. Because I realized that all of your joys had to do with stuff you did — not consumed, not believed — so maybe I should just stop trying to figure out Hanukkah and fry a pancake already. And how this relates to a particular scene in the Torah and the concept of na’aseh v’nishma, and what it means to have “experiential learning” in a religion as intellectual and text-based as Judaism, and all that …

And then I saw this. Senator Orrin Hatch, a Mormon from Utah, has written a Hanukkah song.

Now, let me make two points:

1. His song actually doesn’t suck. (There’s a video linked, you can judge for yourself. It’s not great, but in the canon of Hanukkah music, there’s worse. Trust me.)
2. Irving Berlin wrote “White Christmas” (and also “Easter Parade”), so hey, it’s all good. This is America, buddy.

What is not all good is this:

At one point, Mr. Hatch unbuttons his white dress shirt to expose the golden mezuzah necklace he wears every day. Mezuzahs also adorn the doorways of his homes in Washington and Utah. Mr. Hatch keeps a Torah in his Senate office.

“Not a real Torah, but sort of a mock Torah,” he said. “I feel sorry I’m not Jewish sometimes.”

Well, dude, YOU AREN’T, so suck it the heck up. And I think “mock” Torah pretty well describes it. “Sort of a mock Torah”? How in the name of Ceiling Cat is this in any way showing honor to the Jewish people you claim to respect, Senator Hatch?

If you are not a member of a religious group, it does not honor the people who are to go using their sacred objects or religious symbols as freakin’ accessories. Got it? If you are given something as a gift, with the understanding that it is a cultural/artistic item representing a different faith, that is one thing. (I have a Ganesh statue that was given to everyone who attended a friend’s Big Fat Hindu Wedding a few years back, and some Ukranian Easter eggs from my Ukranian, Christian mother.) Otherwise, no. Religions are not sports teams. You don’t run around wearing the jersey because you like how we play the game. You can attend services, you can study the texts, you can join interfaith groups, you can eat the food, but you do not dress up like something you aren’t. (For more on that, see PeaceBang here.)

Senator Hatch of all people should know this. Interfaith pieties aside, we are not “all one.” Religions differ in fundamental ways. Senator Hatch is a Mormon, and Mormons apparently feel so strongly about protecting their own religious symbols and practices against the casual curiosity or faux-identification of “Mormons for a Day” that they don’t even allow non-Mormons into their temples or allow us to view certain ceremonies. And that’s their perfect right. What if I decided that I, a Jew, was nonetheless a big fan of the Mormonism, and wanted to express that by wearing temple garments under my clothes? Does that put it in perspective for you, Senator Hatch?

And yet, I must thank you. Because your offensive co-opting of my religion has, in fact, inspired me this Hanukkah. If you can celebrate my holiday, I sure as hell can. I am going to make those damn latkes, and I am going to get that wax off my menorah, probably by melting it off with the scorching gaze of my contemptuous laser-eyes and the hot breath of my profanity-laced rant at your discourtesy-masquerading-as-tolerance. (You folks think this is a profanity-laced rant? This is nothing. I can and do kick it “Deadwood“-style when necessary.)

So thank you, Senator Hatch, for teaching me the true meaning of Hanukkah. Which is, frankly, that we need to protect our religions. That we need to set boundaries. That courtesy is not only about acknowledging what binds us together, but about respecting what keeps us apart.

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Career changes

A big part of what I study at that Harvard Business School job of mine is what happens when people switch jobs. My boss and I are interested in what makes people successful — and, as well, what they think makes them successful, and looking at what happens when people move from one organization to another is a good way of doing that. We’ve got an article coming out in the January (or possibly March) issue of Harvard Business Review on the top five mistakes people make when changing jobs.

So I was very interested to see this item in the British Psychological Society’s blog on the differences, culturally, in how people explained why they changed jobs. Workers from the U.S., three European countries, and China were interviewed. The most interesting finding:

Workers in the United States didn’t ever attribute a career transition to an external cause, such as conflict with a boss. Not once. Instead they tended to mention internal factors, such as their desire for a fresh challenge. By contrast, workers in China almost exclusively stressed the role played by external factors. Meanwhile, workers in the the European nations were more of a mix, attributing their career transitions to both internal and external factors.

The researchers said a lot of the transitions reported by the participants, especially in the USA and Europe, were positive. Generally-speaking, people are known to be biased towards attributing positive events to themselves, and so it’s perhaps little wonder that many workers attributed all these positive career transitions to internal causes. “In addition,” the researchers said, “in many cultures ‘being in charge’ of one’s life is positively valued. Conversely, reconstructing crucial career transitions as purely triggered by external circumstances does not convey a great amount of competence.”

I bolded that because I think it’s absolutely huge. I’m dying to read Barbara Ehrenreich’s latest, Bright Sided, about how America’s near-pathological obsession with optimism (and, hence, the belief that we can or should control our fate) has warped our culture, our economy, our medical system.

We so want to be in control. We so want the narrative of our lives to be about “choosing our choice.” It’s very hard for an American to say, “This bad thing happened. No, it wasn’t a blessing in disguise. No, it wasn’t God closing a door and opening a window. No, it wasn’t a ‘challenge.’ It was a bad thing, and it sucked, and now I have less and can do less than I did before, and if I’m going to make any meaning out of it, well, that’s going to take a long damn time and frankly, there’s other and better things I would have liked to do.”

We can’t say that. Even if we could admit it to ourselves, we can rarely say it. You sure as hell can’t say it in a job interview. You can’t say it to strangers at a cocktail party, either. You can only say it to your closest friends, and even that not too often. It’s like the way we can or cannot talk about chronic illnesses. (Ms. Ehrenreich, not surprisingly, wrote the book after a bout with breast cancer.)

In the “children” chapter of Mind Over Manners, I write about the so-called “mommy wars” between working and stay-at-home mothers. I read up a lot on the issue, and came away more or less convinced that except for a privileged few, neither set are really, truly, choosing, but are rather making the best of a limited set of options:

The repeated talk of “choice” makes women feel entirely responsible for the situations they find themselves in. Is a mother who works full-time really making a “choice” if she dare not even ask for a reduction in hours if her husband is self-employed and she provides the family’s health insurance? Is a stay-at-home mother really making a “choice” if the public schools are so bad that they must be supplemented or replaced by homeschooling, or if child care would cost more than she can earn? If we label the decision to stay home versus to go off to work as a “choice,” it allows us, as a society, to maintain that any negative consequences are a problem for the individual to solve, and don’t require reform of our laws or workplace cultures. I’m not here to offer policy recommendations—only the politeness recommendation that both working and stay-at-home mothers recognize that the other side, like they themselves, are making decisions under severely difficult circumstances.

There’s a career transition in my past that I “brightside” a lot, too. I talk about how fun the job was, but how exhausting, and frame my leaving as a simple “when the contract was up,” and then I start talking about all the cool things I’m doing now. I don’t talk about the fact that “the contract was up” really means “they didn’t offer me the permanent job.” I don’t talk about how I wasn’t even given the courtesy of an interview for that permanent job. I don’t talk about how, on my last day of work, I went home early and cried until nightfall.

Because the contract was up! It was over! I was free to pursue other dreams, and now I’m Miss Conduct! I’m not a loser, I’m a winner!

Sometimes, it is very, very tiring to be an American. Always to be a survivor, never a victim. Always to craft that winning story. Always to feel in control, when science and religion and art and philosophy since time immemorial have converged on the simple fact that we are not.

Or to put it another way, because the language of LOL is true and good:


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Southern lessons

Last week we went to Tupelo’s with some friends. Tupelo’s, as the geographically astute among us might have figured out, specializes in Southern cuisine and it is indeed all that. (And reasonably priced, Boston locals take note.) However authentic the food and drink may be, however, the wait staff is distinctly New England.

One of our friends, who is from the South herself, decided to give our delightful Italian waiter some lessons to expand his Southern repertoire beyond “you all.” I’m not sure if my friend has had server experience herself, but she focused her language lesson on the art of the hidden insult, the deployment of which surely everyone who works with the public would find a soothing balm to their psyche.

The phrase she taught him was “Bless his/her heart.” This, apparently, is a codicil to conversation that will alert one’s fellow Southerner that one does not, in fact, approve of the individual whose heart has just been blessed. As in, “My sister in law certainly does love her Yankee Swap,* bless her heart,” or a simple, “Ahmedinejad, bless his heart.” Our waiter seemed to like this a lot, and I wonder how many “Of course we can substitute olive oil for bacon drippings, bless your heart”s he’ll be muttering in days to come.

(*The mere existence of the Yankee Swap ought to be enough to convince anyone that the South, despite its iron-fist-in-velvet-glove reputation, has not entirely cornered the market on sweet-seeming passive aggression.)

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Marine etiquette

This blog post on the New York Times, by a returning Marine, is a fascinating read. The traditional narrative of the returning soldier’s readjustment tends to follow one of two lines: either that of a person so damaged by the horrors of war that they have been rendered unfit for life in polite society, or that of a person whose sense of discipline and honor is so refined that they are repelled by civilian sloppiness and laziness. This post is neither. Entitled “Let Me Get Right to the Point,” it focuses primarily on the difference in communication style between civilians and the military — and the different philosophical assumptions that underlie those differences:

One of the biggest changes I’ve undertaken has been relaxing my communication style. The Marine Corps values clear, direct, and accurate communication. Senior officers have little tolerance for meandering around your point, and they have zero tolerance for trivial or deceptive nonsense. Junior Marines are similar, except they can perceive this better than most field grade officers. I’ve learned that in civilian life many people want to banter about nothing for about 90 seconds before discussing anything of substance. I don’t necessarily like it, but now I can handle it.

At the root of the issue is that I strive to employ the Golden Rule: I treat people as I want to be treated. I do not want anyone to waste my time, so I try to be extremely respectful of others’ time.

There is much more in the article, but there’s so much to unpack just in those two brief bits!

For one thing, note that the communication style that the author, Jeffrey Barnett, considers respectful, many people and cultures (from national cultures to corporate ones) would consider distinctly rude. Even within the same city — Boston — and the same industry — academia — I have noticed this difference. I went to graduate school at Boston University and worked at Harvard during my last years of grad school, and in general, when dealing with the administrative staff, I tended toward Mr. Barnett’s mode. “Hello, Payroll Person. You clearly have several hundred other problems to solve, so I will present mine as concisely as possible and do my best to give you all the information you need, but no more, so that you may get on with your work.” Then I taught at wee little Emmanuel College for two years, and quickly realized that big-bureaucracy etiquette was not the same thing as small-community etiquette. At the big schools, you showed respect to Payroll Person by not wasting their time; at Emmanuel, you showed respect with a little small talk to acknowledge that they weren’t only Payroll Person, they were Sam or Betty, and had their own life outside of Payroll, thank you very much.

(This may have been slightly complicated by the fact that I was faculty at EC, instead of a lowly grad student or fellow administrator, and therefore very much needed to avoid copping Faculty Attitude. But I think the size had more to do with it, because you see the same difference in small towns versus big ones.)

The directness and clarity of the military, the strength of its culture, is part of why it has excelled, as an institution, at integrating people from many different ethnic groups and walks of life. The identity of “Marine” overrides that of race, creed, or color. And there must be a certain comfort to knowing so clearly how you are supposed to communicate, and why, and who is in charge of what at all times. I wrote recently about how, although I am neurotypical, moving around a lot as a kid gave me the same sense that people with Asperger’s have that the social world is mysterious and unknowable. Maybe this is part of why in high school I was considerably tempted to join Naval Junior ROTC, despite my manifest unsuitability for military life. The idea of a culture where the rules were explicit and clear, and where social status was indicated by clearly marked rank rather than shifting tides of popularity, seemed awfully soothing to me.

Please go read the post, and let me know your thoughts on it. I’ve been unable to get it out of my head for days, which is probably why it took me so long to get it on my blog — I couldn’t decide what of the essay’s many riches I wanted to focus on.

I’ll only mention one more, which is a particular pet peeve of mine — flag etiquette! Mr. Barnett, please know that at least one civilian gets it. I don’t know why it bothers me so, but people who own a flag and do not follow the flag code drive me nuts. It’s more respectful of the flag to burn it in protest (which acknowledges its power as a symbol) than to leave a battered flag out in the rain, or keep a flag out 24 hours a day without lights. I’m not saying one should necessarily respect the flag, but presumably, if you are displaying one, you do, so why not do it right? I’m particularly irritated by the soi-disant patriots with their sad, tattered antenna flags and ratty post-9/11 bumper stickers. Perhaps “These Colors Don’t Run,” but they do fade, so think about the message you’re sending, eh?

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The world on time

Today’s column addresses the disconnect between an American woman and her Brazilian friends, who often “cancel plans at the last minute, for reasons that surely could have been foreseen.” They, and her Brazilian husband, all claim that this is typical Brazilian behavior.

Different cultures do have different relationships to time. Shortly after I wrote this column, I read the intensely interesting Beyond 9 to 5: Your Life in Time by Sarah Norgate. Norgate cites another researcher’s experience in Brazil:

In another anecdote [author of Geography of Time Robert] Levine talks about his visiting professorship to Brazil, where he was puzzled that only a few students turned up for the start of his first lecture. Over the course of the “scheduled” two hours, the students walked in, smiled, said hello, sat down and carried on settling in apparently as normal. No one tried to creep in or saw the need to offer an apology; they just came to the lecture when they were good and ready. Punctuality was of no concern; instead the overriding ethos was time’s flexibility–also known as “rubber” time.

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