A scientific formula for a successful relationship?

Wouldn’t it be dandy if there was a scientific formula which predicted how long a relationship would last? We wouldn’t have to rely on the advice of buddies, astrologers, and agony aunts. Most importantly we would have a leg up before investing time, money, and energy into one of the most important decisions of our lives.

Recently, a high-profile research paper published in Psychological Science suggested that the best predictor of how long a relationships lasts is a parameter known is Language Style Matching or LSM. USA Today published a short description of this innovative approach:

The kind of language style the researchers focused on was the use of such words as personal pronouns (I, his, their); articles (a, the); prepositions (in, under), and adverbs (very, rather) — the types of words most people don’t give much thought to.

“You are four times more likely to match and probably go on a date if your language style matching is even just above average”…

Earlier in the year, a blogger at The Economist commented on LSM too:

A drop in the LSM score can mean a relationship is going down the tubes, though not necessarily; for instance, one year Freud and Jung’s LSM score dropped when they were still on good terms, which the researchers think may have been because Jung was ill and stressed that year.

Okay, so this is heavy-duty stuff. So I decided to investigate a bit more.

It turns out that there are two research papers which describe LSM  in writing and how the algorithm “predicts relationship initiation and stability“. What I really wanted was to put it to the test before reading more about the algorithm or the claims made in the media. Fortunately, the authors created an online application which you use to check the Language Style Matching of two people in order to predict how successful their relationship will be.

Once you enter your words in the interaction and then the other person’s words, you will get a number back that assesses the degree to which the two of you match. This number, called a language style matching, or LSM score, ranges from about .50 to 1.00. The closer you are to 1.00, the more in synch the two of you are.

Other studies have found that the LSM score is associated with how long a relationship lasts and its overall quality.

It sounded good to me. In theory, it is plausible that two people engaged in a conversation who use a similar structure in their language might be more likely to have a successful relationship. Or even the opposite: two people in a long-term relationship might be more likely to share similar language structure. Or whatever. Psychology isn’t a discipline always known for giving two hoots about trifling matters such as correlation not being equal to causation.

But I digress. What better way to test the predictive power of LSM than to examine the writing of two people in a relationship who very much love each other?

In other words, me and me.

Or put another way, I decided to test a random sample of my own writing to see if my relationship with myself might be predicted to last my own lifetime. For the examination, I took the text from the most popular post on this blog and compared it to the one I wrote less than a week later. I then compared the popular post to the first chapter of my PhD thesis. Next, I compared two posts which I had deliberately written in the same flippant style here. Finally, I compared the text of an editorial I wrote on the lung cancer genome last year to a business task force recommendation I wrote the same week.

And what did I find?

When I checked how my relationship with myself was going based on my different writing styles I got back Language Style Matching numbers for each pair which always varied from 0.69 to 0.71. So what does this LSM mean?

According to the website:

Compared to other general writing samples that we have analyzed, your LSM score is within the average range. To give you an idea, most LSM scores for general writing samples range between .60 and .90, with the average being around .78. The more the authors of the two samples are thinking in similar ways, the higher the LSM.

So, in other words, the matching between two different samples of my writing is less than the average for two different random people. But in my case, for the single test I ran with writing in what I thought was in the same style, I got the same result which was also lower than for two random people.

Apparently, I don’t even think like myself.

Now, I understand the problem in examining different types of writing for different purposes. And I see a broader use for this application which might even result in better informed outcomes for hapless folks such as mangliks which does  not involve tree marriage.

But excuse me if I’m not totally sold on this yet.

Will you get the same results that I did? Will I get the same results again with other samples of writing? Or do I suffer from multiple personality disorder in which one me absolutely hates another me?

I don’t know. But for now, I’m sticking to reading coffee grinds. They may not predict how much I love myself, but I certainly feel better after drinking the Turkish brew at the top of the cup.

The Afghan Frontier

Much has been said by pundits regarding the ongoing war in Afghanistan and what would constitute a feasible pull-out of troops. The British fought three major wars against the Afghans between 1839 and and 1919, to establish influence in the sphere of Central Asia during “the Great Game”.

A couple of passages written by Sir George Campbell, a Member of Parliament reflected a view that prolonged conflict in Afghanistan was an “unwinnable” one. These views, published in 1879 in The Afghan Frontier are particularly remarkable in light of current affairs in that part of the world:

Before this war I have often expressed my own views regarding the north-west frontier; they may be put in very brief compass. I have always thought and said that if the mountains of Afghanistan had been occupied by a people in any degree resembling those of the Himalayas,—if the Afghans had in any degree resembled in character the people of Cashmere or of the hill country of the Kangra, Simla, or Kumaon districts,, or even those of Nepaul—I should have thought it extremely desirable that we should in some shape occupy that country and so complete our defences; but we know by painful experience that the Afghans are a people of a totally different character—turbulent— bred from infancy to the use of arms—and with a passion for independence in which they are exceeded by no people in this world. This love of independence is such as to make them intolerant, not only of foreign rule, but almost of any national, tribal or family rule. They are a people among whom every man would be a law unto himself. Experience has shown, too, that these traits are not of a passing kind; the Afghans are not to be tamed by subjection and peace; nothing induces them to surrender that love of independence which seems to be the essence of their nature. That being the character of the people occupying so difficult and inaccessible a country, I have thought that the difficulties and expense of any attempt to (meddle with that country far outweigh the advantages…

…These difficulties, however, are trifling compared to those caused by the raids of the hill tribes upon our borders. These raids always have been from the beginning of time, and I am afraid always will be. We have had the most extreme difficulty in devising sufficient means of dealing with the tribes upon our borders. We have tried blocking them out from all traffic with our territory, but that has been only partially successful, and every now and again we are obliged to undertake expeditions into the outer hills. From the time of Sir Charles Napier and Sir Colin Campbell down to the present, these expeditions have always been of the same character, with the same results, or rather no results. We always, with much fuss, arrange expeditions, each of which is is to be the really effective and exemplary one, which is to settle the question finally. We always go up into the hills and generally encounter but little resistance in going. When we get into the petty settlements within our reach the hill people disappear with their flocks and herds and goods, and leave us their miserable huts, upon which we wreak our vengeance, as we do upon any petty crops they may have left, if it is the crop season. When that is done, nothing remains but to go back again. As soon as we turn, the hill tribes are down upon our rear; and thus having marched up the hill, we march down again in a somewhat humiliating way, howled at and fired upon by the Afghans as we go; so with more or less loss we get home again and write a dispatch, describing the whole affair as a most successful expedition, crowned by a glorious victory. That has been many times repeated. It must be admitted that this state of things is not very satisfactory, and in spite of our so-called victories the evil has not been cured. But upon the whole the raids and the expeditions are of late years somewhat less numerous than they were before. Some of the hill people we have induced to settle in the lower districts, upon land we have given them. And at any rate we know the worst —we have become accustomed to the situation. There is a limit to the exposed border; and after all it may be said, that these troublesome tribes are rather thorns in our side than a serious political danger. One thing is quite certain, that for offensive action against us, the Afghan tribes are wholly contemptible. No two tribes ever seem to be capable of uniting against us for offence, and if ever they did unite, they would still be entirely contemptible enemies down in the plains. There a single division would very easily dispose of them.

Now comes the question, “It is very easy to object to everything, but what would you do?” I am very clear as to what I would have done a little time ago, and that is—nothing.

Huckleberry Finn has been censored. What does it mean for desis?

Yes, it is true. Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn has been censored. According to the BBC:

A new edition of Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is causing controversy because of the removal of a racially offensive word.

Twain scholar Alan Gribben says the use of the word “nigger” had prompted many US schools to stop teaching the classic.

In his edition, Professor Gribben replaces the word with “slave” and also changes “injun” to “Indian”.

First, there is one thing I need to get out of the way. I hate the “n-word.” I’ve never used it in my life. The only reason I have it here is to quote a valid news-story from a valid news organization. Hell, one of the reasons I give for disliking rap is the incessant use of the word, though the truth is I just don’t like the sound of it. I’ll admit I don’t mind when Richard Pryor says it. I laugh when David Chappelle does. But only black people can  make it funny.

Now, that I’ve gotten the mandatory disclaimer out of the way, I feel better.

I’ve never actually read Huckleberry Finn. I’m not sure too many other people from India have either. Of course, we all claim to have read it along with David Copperfield, Treasure Island, Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver’s Travels, and The Swiss Family Robinson. What most of us have read are condensed pocket books of these tales with large-type on one side of the page and illustrations on the other. I’ve never heard any desi ever complain about those modifications. I never complained about the atrocious comic books versions of the classics either.

So, in this case I am somewhat sympathetic with the publisher who made the change and the teacher who requested it. It is about choice, and as long as the original uncensored version is available to anyone in that class, I am fine. The problem arises when you think of this not in isolation, but in the increasing trend toward revisionism. When changing a name makes it so that nothing ever happened.

I’m ashamed to admit that I cheer the Washington Redskins (not ashamed because of the name, but because they play lousy football). Should the name be changed to Washington Native Americans and again when something else becomes politically-correct? Maybe. But if you’re going to do that, please change the name of the Cleveland Browns baseball team. They suck too.

A few years ago, it was politically correct to call Native Americans, American Indians who were, of course, different from Indian Americans. But then some slowpoke realized it was confusing. As far as I know, after the change to Huckleberry Finn, we will still be Indians, and not everyone will have to pronounce it “in-dee-yun” with an audible “d” either. I am curious if it will still be acceptable for Indian to be pronounced “engine,” but offensive to write it out.

My point is that there is a lot of gray area (unless gray area is being ageist, in which case I apologize).

Personally, I’ll draw the line when we start revising our own literature, culture, and films to scrub the references which that we find offensive.

A Hindu’s impression of the United States in 1917.

One of the benefits of having the archives of the New York Times available for downloading from the convenience of a home is that there is a vast collection of news articles of cultural and historical significance easily available.

Today, I came across a book review of Lajpat Rai’s The United States of America: A Hindu’s Impressions and a Study which was published in the newspaper on January 21, 1917. It is a fascinating account of a major American newspaper’s critique of a famous Indian’s account of the United States. I haven’t read the book, but if the New York Times was as stingy with praise then as it is now, then the review is remarkably sympathetic.

“The Hindu scholar has no purpose of writing a book for the purpose of contrasting the East and the West. What he does is to see the United States, a great and growing nation, on the threshold of imperialism, to find her problems unique and difficult, to behold her as something complex and interesting in the present and full of strange promise and portent for the future, to study her thus as a thing worth studying.”

Lajpat Rai summarizes up the challenges and opportunities as he sees them:

To sum up: the United States stands today with the promise (or curse) of imperialism ahead of her, with the tremendous problems of Government ownership of public utilities, with an imminent war between capitalism and labor, with race problems, and with the question of women’s suffrage. It is truly “the melting pot” of the different nations of the world, of its social, political, and economic problems, and its past and future history is well worth watching.

A reader today immediately sees the strides made in certain spheres nearly a century later, especially with respect to the rights of women and minorities. But some of the economic problems outlined such as the disparity between workers and management are still unresolved.

Rai also commends the United States on putting emphasis on education and creating coeducational facilities and it is with this facet that he is most full of praise go so far as to say of America that “her educational system is her saving… Well might the other communities of the world take a leaf out of her book if they want to improve the intelligence, the morals, and the physique of their people.”

The New York Times is somewhat ambivalent on Rai not sharing the irrational exuberance (to use a phrase coined by a modern-day pundit) for unbridled free-market capitalism. It states:

The Hindu’s observations on civilization remain Oriental, and somewhat depressing for Occidental readers. He finds the world, in this country and in Europe, given over to the pursuit of material things, conquering natural obstacles, it is true, but struggling for vanities. The majority lives to provide the pleasures of the few. Hankering after the good things of the world is the ruling passion of life. And is the world better, or happier?

But this is trivial. I share that ambivalence and so do most others reading on their iPads in “India Shining”.