Brooks and Bruni

Bobo has seen a video.  And now Bobo thinks he can do research…  In “The Confidence Questions” he asks a bunch, leading off with:  Is there a relationship between gender and self-confidence? Dear Readers, please ponder the matter in your own lives and send in written reflections. He seeks responses from men and women.  And I’m sure he’ll draw some glib conclusions…  In “Malicious but Delicious” Mr. Bruni says invasive species run roughshod over the rest of nature. That’s where our incisors and bicuspids come in.  Here’s Bobo:

By now, many of you have seen the main Web video in the Dove “Real Beauty” campaign. It shows a police sketch artist sitting behind a curtain. He interviews women he can’t see about their own faces and he draws them, based on their descriptions. Then he asks other people to describe the faces of those same women and makes another sketch.

The portraits based on the women’s own descriptions are sadder, less attractive and more closed-off than the portraits based on descriptions from others.

But the real payoff comes as we watch the women first look at the two portraits side by side. They approach the sketches with self-conscious smiles on their faces. But when they notice how much darker and unattractive the portraits based on their self-descriptions are, the smiles collapse into looks of shocked self-realization. One woman sheds a tear.

As social science, this video wouldn’t pass muster (a lot depends on the biases of the artist and the editors). But it does highlight a phenomenon most of us recognize: many women are too self-critical about their looks while many guys are too self-flattering.

For me, the video raised questions that go beyond body image, questions about self-confidence. I was going to write a column about these questions, but I realized I didn’t know the answers and the studies I consulted weren’t helping. So I thought this might be a job for crowd-sourcing sociology. I’m going to throw out some questions. If you (women and men) send answers based on your experiences to, I’ll quote them in future columns. Please describe personal incidents, along with general observations.

The first question: A generation after the feminist revolution, are women still, on average, less confident than men?

For decades, surveys indicated men had a higher self-esteem than women. But there is some evidence that the gap has narrowed or vanished. A 2011 study from the University of Basel based on surveys of 7,100 young adults found that young women had as much self-esteem as young men.

That tracks with some of my experience. My perception in college was that more men were seminar baboons — dominating the discussions whether they had done the reading or not. But now, when I visit college classes, the women seem just as assertive as the men.

But I’m not sure that this classroom assertiveness carries out into the world of work, or today’s family and friendship roles. And I’m not sure we’ve achieved parity when it comes to elemental confidence. When you read diaries of women born a century or centuries ago, you sometimes see them harboring doubts about their own essential importance, assumptions that they are to play a secondary role on earth, and feelings that their identity is dependent on someone else. How much does that mind-set linger?

Which leads to the second question: Are women still more likely to flow into different domains in your organization? For example, a study by the Center for the Advancement of Engineering Education found that, when working in groups, highly accomplished male students gravitated toward the technical tasks, while highly accomplished female students gravitated toward the administrative tasks.

Some psychologists have observed that male self-confidence tends to be based on efficacy, how they perform tasks, while female self-confidence tends to be based on self-worth, on more general traits like integrity and compassion. If that’s true, men may be more eager to prove themselves by leaping to do the hard jobs.

Third: Do we undervalue the talent for self-criticism the women display in that video? Obviously, you want people to be assertive enough to leap forward, but you also want them to be self-aware enough to honestly evaluate themselves.

We have piles of evidence to show that people overtrust their judgment and overestimate their goodness. Also, there is no easy correlation between self-esteem and actual performance.

Maybe the self-criticism those women displayed in the Dove ad is a rare skill to be harnessed and valued, at least to a degree. Maybe the self-observation talents that lead to bad feelings because we are imperfect also lead to better decision-making and better behavior for those capable of being acutely aware of their imperfections.

This leads to my final question: In society generally, are more problems caused by overconfidence or underconfidence? The financial crisis and the tenor of our political debates suggest that overconfidence and self-idolatry are by far the larger problems. If that’s true, how do you combine the self-critical ability to recognize your limitations with the majestic confidence required to struggle against them?

I guess I’m asking how to marry self-criticism and self-assertion, a blend our society is inarticulate about. I guess I’m wondering, as we make this blend, whether most of us need more of the stereotypically female trait of self-doubt or the stereotypically male trait of self-promotion.

I’d love to know what makes Bobo so supremely self-confident that he thinks he’s competent to undertake such a study…  Here’s Mr. Bruni who’s in Austin, TX:

For your personal health, you should probably eat more vegetables.

But for the future of civilization as we know it?

More pork. Feral hogs, to be exact.

They’re multiplying like mad — like rabbits with hooves, tusks and an epic sense of entitlement — especially here in Texas, where an estimated 2.6 million of them routinely desecrate farmland by rooting up crops, decimate reptile populations by snacking on them, devour feed meant for livestock and probably do some other pernicious thing beginning in “de-” that won’t come to me right now.

Destroy enclosures! That’s it! Feral hogs have been known to chew and stomp their way into suburban yards and even onto Army bases, said Richard Heilbrun, a biologist with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. “And when you have a military installation with a fence problem,” he told me, “you have a national security problem.”

You also have an excellent reason to turn these hammy hellions into dinner.

That’s what the chef Ned Elliott was up to when I dropped by his Austin restaurant, Foreign & Domestic, on Friday. He and several other cooks were using deboned flesh from two feral hogs for porchetta, the beloved Italian roasted pork dish. They planned to serve it, along with giant Asian tiger prawns and Himalayan blackberries, at a special feast at the restaurant staged in cooperation with the Texas chapter of the Nature Conservancy.

The event had a saucy sobriquet, “Malicious but Delicious,” and a serious mission: to raise people’s awareness of, and ideally whet their appetites for, the bullies of the ecosystem, more formally known as invasive species, invasives for short. In certain areas of the United States, the hogs, the prawns and the blackberries qualify.

“They’re aggressive,” Elliott told me, providing a tidy case for their digestion.

All you principled environmentalists out there, you’re being lax. Your recycling is admirable and your farmers’ market patronage appreciated, but there’s a whole class of animals, fish and plants that are throwing the earth out of balance, and it’s time you turned not just your attention but also your bicuspids and incisors toward them.

They aren’t evil in and of themselves. They just don’t play so well with others, and proliferate ostentatiously. Many aren’t even meant to be part of the habitats they now maraud across, but thanks to human meddling, they ended up there, then got bossy about it.

“It’s as if you came home from work and a bunch of people had moved into your house,” said Laura Huffman, the Texas director of the Nature Conservancy. “Maybe they’re nice enough, but they’re still eating all your food and sitting on your furniture, and that’s going to disrupt the way your family lives.”

She was referring not only to hogs and tiger prawns but also to European green crabs, now common in Maine, where they prey on unsuspecting scallops.

Also Asian carp, the thuggish mobsters of the Mississippi, though maybe not for long. There’s been talk of rebranding them as “Kentucky tuna.”

Edible invasives are cataloged on a Web site aptly titled Eat the Invaders. It reflects a slowly growing awareness of the problem and a fledgling effort by ecologically minded chefs to address it.

In New York not long ago, the chef Kerry Heffernan prepared Asian carp and lionfish, which pose a ferocious threat from the Caribbean to the Carolinas, for a dinner at the James Beard House. At Miya’s Sushi in New Haven, Bun Lai regularly promotes such invasives as Asian shore crabs and burdock, a plant whose root is a delicacy in Japan.

And since November, a lionfish appetizer has been a mainstay at the restaurant Haven in Houston. Its chef, Randy Evans, told me that one problem with serving it and other invasives is cost. Absent an established market for them, suppliers are few and supplies expensive.

He said he paid $20.99 a pound for fillets of lionfish, which are absurdly plentiful in the nearby Caribbean, but $17.99 for tuna flown all the way from Hawaii.

Feral hog meat, used at Haven for a “wild boar chili,” is less exorbitant and more available, partly in response to a piggy population explosion sometimes called the “pig bomb.” Across dozens of states, there are about five million feral hogs, descendants of imports from Europe, and Heilbrun said that the fecundity of females, which give birth more than once a year, is the stuff of legend.

“The old joke is that their average litter size is six, but 10 survive,” he told me.

While Texans have accelerated their killing of hogs to about 30 percent of the population annually, that still allows for a doubling of the population over a five-year period. And that underscores the strange blind spots in the ways of us conscientious omnivores, who congratulate ourselves on foraging and on nose-to-tail eating while failing to chow down adequately on an entire breed just begging to be bacon.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: