Daily Office:


Matins: I have not had the pleasure of meeting Andy Towle in person, but I understand that he is not a tall man. It now appears that everybody understands that he is not a tall man. So well that the little surprise at the end of this clip of Rick and Steve needs no explanation. If I were Andy, I’d slap me silly for laughing so hard. As I said in a recent entry, I’m pretty mixed up these days, but that’s no excuse. (Thanks, Joe.)

Tierce: Something in Brent Bowers’s story about executive coaching, small businesses, and overcoming understandable anxiety caught my eye. It has to do with a state-change that, inevitably it seems, faces entrepreneurs as their enterprises grow.

Nones: The brains of bullies appear to be wired differently, according to fMRI studies. Tara Parker-Pope reports.

While the study is small, the striking differences shown in the brain scans suggests that bullies may have major differences in how their brains process information compared to non-bullies. Dr. Decety said the aggressive adolescents showed a strong activation of the amygdala and ventral striatum, areas of the brain that respond to feeling rewarded. The finding “suggested that they enjoyed watching pain,” he said. Notably, the control group of youths who weren’t prone to aggressive behavior showed a response in the medial prefrontal cortex and the temporoparietal junction, areas of the brain involved in self regulation.

This comes as no surprise, and yet it seems to add some urgency to the question of how we deal with such information.

Vespers: Amazingly, this doesn’t happen more often: “American Idol reject found dead near Paula Abdul’s home.” Although I would not outlaw it, I can’t see reality television as anything but debased, debasing, and utterly inhumane.


§ Matins. I feel much less guilty about saying that I don’t visit Towleroad very often. Having just read David Remnick’s “Joshua Generation” article about Barack Obama’s handling of “race” — I increasingly insist upon putting that wholly bogus term in scare quotes, since it refers to nothing  but bigotry, nothing — I’m thinking of airing some doubts about the utility of a gay focus on public affairs. Nothing, however, can change the fact that Towleroad was the blog that inspired me for a full six months before I launched The Daily Blague. It’s smart, stylish, and agreeably dense. Andy runs lots of pictures, but Towleroad is emphatically text-based. I hope that Vassar is proud of him.

§ Tierce. Mr Bowers interview Jeffrey Hull, an executive coach who discovered that his own outfit was best-geared to serving the owners of businesses with annual revenues between $1 and $10 million.

The same client worried about his firm’s sluggish growth, Mr. Hull said. With revenue stuck at about $5 million, the client felt intimidated when he bumped into people like Donald Trump at an industry conference. “It was a classic entrepreneurial conundrum,” Mr. Hull said. “You reach a certain level of success and stop growing because you’re reluctant to change your ways.”

He urged the two owners of the investment company to start acting like a bigger company by holding regular, structured meetings instead of communicating with each other and their staff members by frequent workplace chats. He also suggested that they assume responsibilities that played to their strengths (one was a schmoozer and a visionary, the other an introvert and numbers cruncher), rather than working out every decision together.

I don’t mean to second-guess Mr Hull’s professional advice, but I would advise this client to sell his business and start something else. A man who has to be told how to “act like” an executive at a larger company, it seems to me, is probably not really suited to the “corporate” environment. Someone comfortable — and, evidently, effective — with the informal, spontaneous-seeming atmosphere of “workplace chats” and collaborative decision-making may loathe and resent the structures that larger businesses need in order to articulate their multiple parts.

Businessmen have been subjecting their employees to psychological profiling for decades. It’s time for them to discover their aptitudes and shortcomings as well. Investors ought to insist on it.

§ Nones. We do nothing for the time being, I expect. Quarantining bullies is exactly the sort of attractive option that must be resisted. I’m hardly qualified to propose further tests, but it might be useful to test ever-younger aggressive kids, in search of a moment of divergence, if any. Are brains born this way? Or is there a conditioning process?

The study marks an important era: whereas we all knew that bullies take pleasure in the pain of others, we now know that specific regions of the amydala and temporoparietal junction respond inappropriately. We will be amassing a great deal of such information in the coming years — and that’s all that we ought to be doing, mindful that we’re still a lot more ignorant about ourselves than we suppose.

§ Vespers. And I ask myself, was The Gong Show better or worse than the current crop of shows? It was certainly in much worse taste. But was it “reality TV”? Surreality would be more like it. I was always gripped by the contestants and their delusions. It wasn’t funny (most of the time), but it was impressive. For the record: I have Mrs Miller on CD.

How anybody can sit through American Idol after American Dreamz is beyond me.

One Response to “Daily Office:

  1. jkm says:

    In general, I agree with you about reality tv. That said, I will admit to an addiction to ‘Top Chef’ and ‘Project Runway.’