Monday, August 29, 2005

Spammers Love Me

Well, lookie there, my last post on running over a seagull has drawn many interested new parties who just can’t get enough of my blog, and wish to set me up with information that can only improve my life.

Comment 1:

“Gaza disengagement coverage splintered by factional views online
"What happened last week can only be described as horrific, and all who were there have been painfully altered by the psychological trauma and are experiencing emotional aftershocks.

Your blog is very interesting, check out mine if you have a chance sometime!
I have a debt site/blog. It pretty much covers debt related stuff.”

I suppose if I were writing a debt related blog, I’d find IdeasHatched comparatively interesting as well. Not sure about the connection between my post and his Gaza disengagement comments, unless he is comparing the trauma I suffered after killing the seagull to that of Jews forced to relocate.

Comment 2:
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To be honest, I got distracted after the first sentence – I couldn’t keep still. But turns out the website is not about people with attention deficit hyperactive disorder. It is more generally connected to whether you have a health issue. I don’t; in fact, it is a great morale booster to schedule a physical just so I can check off the “no” column for the 200 items they inquire about, but thanks for the heads up.

Comment 3:
New generation of impersonal personals. I check mine at least twice a day. Why? To see the number of times it's been accessed, to see what other people post and for no reason whatsoever.
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Still trying to figure this one out, although I am pretty sure I don’t need car insurance in San Diego.

Comment 4:
Hi there,
I just ran across your site and enjoyed reading through everything. I'm trying to get a blog going on my site too. But I dont think i have the patience to do it!

My Dog Grooming Site

Wow, she read through everything and enjoyed it all! If I didn’t know better, I’d think that I’d written that comment. In any event, why would she think a cold blooded seagull killer would be interested in dog grooming?

Comment 5:
Been looking at blogs, found your Blog... I have a Posters, Art Prints and Poetry site and blog. Feel free to visit anytime. :)

Yeah, poetry, beauty, etc. … that’s what I’m all about, Bub! Stay away from my kids you Ivy educated child molester. I might have been nicer, but you didn’t even complement me!

Comment 6:
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Soduku Craze! Must not be too much of a craze, since it hasn’t stopped you from spamming my comments. Maybe you should try meth and leave me the alone. As for marketing opportunity keywords, a subsequent commenter gave me all I need to increase my traffic.

Comment 7:
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What, a blog concerning ear yeast infection treatments in dogs isn’t anything special?! Don’t sell yourself short, man; that is a great idea. Do you need investors?

Comment 8:
Thanks for the informative post, keep up the good work!

Take care, and God Bless.
Ken Reno

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Informative post? It was a post about me running over a seagull; I fail to see how such information could be useful to anyone. I mean, it’s not going to make you any money, or improve your chances of impressing the ladies: “Hey, some jerky with a blog ran over a seagull on his bike. Isn’t that hilarious. Wanna see my fish bowl?”

Comment 8:
Blogs - the future of communication
Anyone who hasn't yet heard of blogging has probably been living under a rock. Just a few years ago, these online editorials, diaries, and other collections of random thoughts were the exclusive territory of ...
What a great site you have here, I bookmarked it!

I have a facts penile enlargement related info site. It covers facts penile enlargement related information.
Check it out when you can. ;)

Yes, blogs, the future of communication, I’m with you brother! Prior to blogging, other collections of random thoughts were the exclusive territory of … who, dammit! Why’d you leave me hanging? Was it the 7 Jewish bankers who run the entire world financial system? You bookmarked my site, please respond so that you can fill me in.
And as for marketing opportunity keywords, “facts penile enlargement” should do the trick to capture a bunch of losers from Google (did I mention Anne Kournikova?). My guess is that all your facts are as wrong as the others I’ve tri..uh, er, heard about.

Comment 8:

Don't you know you're wasting my valuable net-surfing time at work?!

Whoa there, giant, learning the “facts penile enlargement” may not be necessary for someone knicknamed the giant, but the rest of us have the right to know. Plus, you’ll be thanking these guys when your dog Shadow gets an ear yeast infection.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Seagull Hunting the Hard Way

I'm off for a couple of days of bidness travel, so the next post won't be until next week; sorry for the limited postings of late.

I see where some French newspaper thinks they've definitively proved Lance Armstrong was using EPO in 1999. I'd like to see a controlled experiment where they take a group of guys and train them in the exact same way for maybe three years, let them race the season to see where they comparatively rank, and then in the last season let half of them use EPO and see how different the results are. The experiment would get at how much EPO adds to comparative performance. My guess is that it adds enough so that it is possible to conclude the following - either most contendors in the Tour are doing it, or none are. So it is possible that it isn't a difference maker, although clearly maybe those who have never used it never became contendors for that reason. I like to think that that is the reason I am not a world class cyclist.

On a somewhat related note, I am fast enough on my Bianci roadbike to have recently killed a seagull en route to work. I was coming around a turn at Haine's Point, at the tip of the island, when from behind a trashcan a startled seagull tried to flee toward the Potomac and flew right in front of my front wheel. Fortunately, it was in front and not heading into the spokes. I had no time to react and ran right over its neck. Now, as a general rule I hate seagulls, as any person who has significant Jersey beach time would. But that doesn't exactly mean that I want to be killing them. The only upside is that I gain street cred with my hunting in-laws; I've never hunted in my life, nor have I ever shot a gun, two facts no doubt that hunters would hold me quietly in contempt for. But the way I see it, anyone can kill an animal with a rifle or a shotgun; it's quite another thing to stalk and kill 'em on your bike. And I did it without EPO!

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Journalism 101

At first glance it will appear that I am going to beat this Cindy Sheehan horse long beyond the point where it's dead, but I want to make some more general comments that stem from Professor Vic and PBryon's observations that are not specific to this particular political theatre.

The more general situation is this: you have a President that you don't like, maybe even hate, who is confronted by a protest or confronted by a criticism that you think has little merit, or is run by crazy loons. But one of your main criticisms of the President that you think is valid is that he is a phoney opportunist, an artist in making people think he's a regular guy, concerned with the everyday people, when the truth is he would sell his mother in a heartbeat if there was a market for old ladies. So when the President does not do some simple phoney act to try to quell an absurd or unwarranted protest or criticism, you criticize the guy for not being enough of a phoney opportunist. Some guys just cannot win.

I'm not picking on PBryon or Professor Vic, because I don't know that they hate the President or have accused him of being a phoney. But surely you see this general pattern in the press coverage of absurd protests led by commie morons. Here is the pattern: cover the protest, but don't show any of the actual protestors; pick out the one or two who look normal and air the one quote in their five minute soliloquy where they make a moderate point, and do your best to get the camera angle just so in a manner where the viewer cannot see the jugular vein bulging out two inches from the speaker's neck.

Now speak of the protest as if it involves a wide swath of people from all reaches of society, just spontaneously gathering to voice their concern; no need to point out the fact that there are actual organizers often involved passing out commie literature (these people are no threat of course, but pointing out how unhinged they are would normally be newsworthy). Generalize from the protest to public opinion across the board. Run this story about ten days, and then take a poll to give you numbers that support the message you've been trying to drive home for ten days. Report the poll right after day 11 coverage of the protest, and puzzle over how out of touch the President is to not respond to their concerns directly, even if it would be in an a transparently phoney manner. Never ever ever ever examine the merit of the protest's claims when they are attacking a guy you like to see getting attacked.

The rules are quite different when the guy being attacked is one you like. In that event, dig up everything you can on the attackers, and let everyone know their connections. "Bill Clinton has faced criticism from Joe Rockhead that seems to be taking a political toll on his administration, but do we know the real Joe Rockhead?" What follows is a string of loose associations, culminating in a acquaintance with a guy who once went to college with a woman who had a friendship with a guy who was once in line at Starbuck's behind Karl Rove, and we'll leave it to you to connect the nefarious dots ...

In other words, when the story is adverse to one of them, they'll tell you exactly why the story is suspect (usually on the basis of who is telling it rather than its merit as truth), or they might ignore it, but they'll certainly ignore anyone who is buying the story. When the story is a bad one harming one of us, but is one that is being bought wholesale by a bunch of people, simply report the fact that the people are buying it, and ignore the fact that they might be buying a load of crap. Thus, we get the Swift Boat Vets, ignored by the mainstream press until Kerry felt like he had to respond, versus Farenheit 911, and all of the speculation about how (with fingers crossed under the view of the camera) the film might swing the electorate.

So make up your mind - if he's a political phoney, don't fault him in the one instance where he's not being a political phoney.

The Mashochism of Golf

Voice inside the Hatcher's head: Feet shoulder width apart ... head slightly tilted right ... right hand relaxed on grip like I'm holding a stick of butter ... left elbow locked ... slow on the backswing ... shift weight to the right foot ... keep the head down ... transition to foreswing ... shift your weight to the left foot ... shift your weight to the left foot ... dammit shift your weight to the left foot already!

The weight shift came too late, and the head of my seven iron, with considerable angular momentum, hit ground about 3 inches behind the ball and the same distance above the natural low-point of the radius of the club action. This implies considerable shock to the wrists, arms, and back, and a hard metal blade tearing through a small ant colony beneath my ball like a bunker buster bomb into the recessed basements of one of Saddam's castles. Oh, and it also means that the ball travels about 30 yards.

Voice inside the Hatcher's head: Quick, think of some original and witty permutation of the five or six standard curse words in the English language - this is your chance to contribute to the well-being of the foursome, to leave them with an expression that they too can use to impress other golfers with the originality of their profanity, and to make your wit, rather than the wretchedness of your golf game, the lasting impression .

Voice from the Hatcher to the outside world: F%&@!!!!

That's all I could come up with. So the lasting impression is a guy with both the golf skills and the cursing ability of a seven-year old. That, in a nutshell, is how I spent my Myrtle Beach vacation. Why why why why why? It didn't have to be that way. With the temperature of the surf about 70 degrees, similar to that of the air, I could have been boogie boarding with the twins (or, as they call it, buggy boarding) in mid-October, or trying to coax Jake into braving the treachorous ankle-deep waters of the Atlantic.

I know that some of you may correctly point out that a guy who spends this much time writing about his opinions is clearly in love with himself, which is definitely true, but the Hatcher is more complex than your average narcissist. There is a corner of my psyche that is pure self-hatred, and it manifests itself by convincing me to play golf, where I can spend 4 solid hours cursing my own existence. What compounds the problem is the fact that beyond the age of 30, this is the most likely game involving any sense of coordination that you are likely to play with other guys, and so each guy you play with infers your athletic skills in all other sports based upon your ability, or lack thereof, in golf.

It is manifestly unfair. Hey, when I was twelve years old, I was second in the majors in home runs to Ed Preston, and I am still sifting through the Balco grand jury testimony to see if his name pops up, 'cause I'm sure he was juicing. I am a coordinated guy - I'm not embarressed to play any sport other than golf. But with golf, 70 year-old guys suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, with flexibility on par with what mine would be if wrapped in a straight jacket, own me on the golf course.

There were some bright spots to my game, but even those say very little for my character. I noticed by the third day that I played very well when others in the foursome were really playing poorly. I could barely suppress the shadenfreud, the feeling of joy in seeing the misery of others, and it lifted my game to a whole new level. The sight of a partner's ball duck hooking into the woods, the inevitable sound of titlest hitting hard lumber, the subsequent cursing of said partner and the look of utter frustration on his face - all of it, a delight for my senses. My drive - straight down the middle 230 yards out.

But even if you are good at golf, you are never as good as you think you should be, and with certainty somewhere in your future lies a horrendous round of golf. To use some of the language I learned from Nobel prize winner Ed Prescott - if golf scores follow a Markov process, a bad round is in every golfer's ergodic set. I am not really sure what that means, but I think the context is correct. Golfers as a group are like Wiley Coyote (super genius), with that elusive perfect round as the Road Runner. Whereas Wiley Coyote is buying the latest explosive bird seed made by Acme to improve his chances of feasting on the bird, we are always buying Big Berthas to improve our drives. That's all I need - a better set of clubs - and you can count me in for Myrtle Beach again next year.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Don't Spoil My View

Read this story about how rich liberals cannot stomach having their oceanfront view spoiled by windmills. I agree with Cronkite, they should put the windmills off the oceanfront property that is owned by the poor people, so property values are less impacted.

A Nut Job, By Any Other Name, is Still a Nut Job

Now, to the work at hand, it appears some people took offense to the nut-job label I applied to the grieving mother in the comments to that post. Professor Vic had this to say:

“Hatch is showing all of the great people skills exhibited by President Bush by calling a grieving mother a "nut job." It's just plain poor taste on both Bush's and Hatch's part, and it's what has Bush's approval ratings about Iraq in the 30s.

Bush needs to pull a Clinton, invite her in for tea, and tell her he "feels her pain." My own opinions aside, I'm not saying that Bush should change his policies on Iraq based on one angry parent, but neither Bush nor Hatch are doing anything to help the cause in Iraq by ignoring or slandering the victims of the war.”

Professor Vic had me confused at first. When he said Bush should have pulled a Clinton, I thought he meant she should start groping and sexually assaulting the poor woman in her grief, much as Clinton did days after Kathleen Willey’s husband committed suicide. Now that would have been in poor taste.

I must say as well that I was very flattered by the status the Professor implicitly attached to my blog, crediting it along with Bush's behavior for national opinion polls. I can see the NYT headline now: "Obscure Nut Job Blogger with a Dozen Loyal Readers Insults Saint Cindy, Hurts War Effort."

Now, “nut job” is not the most sensitive term for a person who is mentally unstable, I’ll admit, but my presumption that she is mentally ill is the most kind assumption I could make given her behavior. And a nut job, by any other name, is still a nut job. Moreover, in everything I’ve read about this lady that has been critical, each author has felt obliged to spend 2 sentences proving his emotional correctness by saying "I feel bad for her for losing her son, bla bla bla." Who doesn’t? One shouldn’t have to preface criticism of behavior with an excuse for the behavior. She's not the first woman to have a son die in a war, but she is the first to basically say that the President is as responsible for her son's death as he would be if he invited her son into the Oval Office and shot him in cold blood. To me, that is beyond the pale. I suspect the President feels the same, and that Professor Vic would feel the same if someone were blurring moral distinctions in an insane manner intended to say he is no better than a murdering thug.

Bush has met with this woman (as Incredible Dirigible points out), and she had glowing things to say in the aftermath of that meeting. So he obviously hasn't ignored her as a victim of the war. Her tune has obviously changed. Now, she has publicly said he is the biggest terrorist in the world, that our country is not worth dying for, etc. If she was a man it would be excusable for Bush to invite him into the ranch and then kick his ass. He still has the class not to call her a nut job, so he hasn't slandered her at all, which is to his everlasting credit.

As to whether I slandered her or not, let's explore the notion that she is not mentally ill for a moment to see whether I could have described her in kinder terms. If that is the case, than she is either dumb as a post and cannot make simple moral distinctions, or she assumes the worst possible motives inspire a man she does not know - which is rather less charitable than me calling her a nut job. Furthermore, she could be credibly accused of exploiting her own son's death for her own purposes in a rather maudlin and classless display. So if she has her senses together and is not dumb as a post, then she is a colossal b*#@&. Forced to choose between her being a nut job, a simpleton, or a colossal b*#@&, I chose the best of the three much to my credit, principally because I am not a colossal b%$@*^@.

What is noteworthy in all of this is that, if I were running a major news organization, I would have come to these same conclusions on day 1 of her little show. And, understanding that the probabilities are such that at least one slain soldier would have a nut job for a mom, I would not see it as a major priority of the news to show the whole world she's a nut job day after day after day. She has nothing of substance to say and she has already been given what she's asked for. Now, ask yourself this, would she still be there if the cameras never came? My guess is no way, and that to me says a lot about her as a mother. The only people who can help her in her grieving process are the press, who can only do so by ignoring her. But even then she'll still have the rest of the nut-jobs who perpetually protest America lapping up her every word, so she'll always be the most popular patient in that particular traveling psychiatric ward. She'll be a nut job's nut job, so to speak.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

My Blog is a Contingent Liability

* Some readers expressed concern that I was either fired by the blog or that I had died due to my unexplained failure to post last week. Neither is true, and rumors of my death were highly exaggerated (one of my favorite Mark Twain quotes, principally because it is the only one I know). Some astute readers may have noticed that I have some click-on ads at the very bottom of the page. My adding the code to allow these ads on my site was my ticket to monetizing my reader base, because in theory these ads can generate revenues in some manner. They've been there for at least a month now, and when I recently checked my account to see the riches I have wrought, I found that, to date, I have generated nothing. That could be a reflection of the quality of this blog. Alternatively, it could be a reflection of the frugality or economic means of my reader base. Forced to choose between the two, I am choosing the latter, and so ongoing efforts to continue the blog should be viewed as my free gift to my cash-strapped readers. Merry Christmas!

But it took me a week to convince myself that my efforts were not completely wasted. Now, I need only calculate the value of my charitable contributions for the purpose of taking a sizable tax deduction, which may involve organizing my readers as a 501C entity (stay tuned). Of course, pointing out the click-on ads at the bottom of my sight probably violates every little electronic acceptance of terms sheet I checked in getting the code; so it is likely that Ideas Hatched is now subject to significant litigation. Those interested in donating to my legal defense fund can contact me directly.

* Let me take a moment to recognize Phil Mickelson’s PGA victory; he is a role model for all lefties, right up there with Oris Kinderchuck. A lot of people don’t know this, because it gets very little recognition from a world run by and for righthanders, but lefthanders face significantly greater odds of dismembering their own limbs with power tools. On the basis of what Mickelson had to overcome just to be at the PGA, I’d stack his two majors up against Tiger’s 10 (or is it 11?) any day of the week.

Perhaps Jimmy Roberts and Bob Costas should team up to do a human interest story on Phil, with the soft music playing while the camera pans a foggy mist rising from some pristine fairway, with a silhouetted Phil far in the distance walking closer toward the camera and his approach for the second shot. Next comes the interview, when Phil says that the championships mean nothing to him, and that all was put into perspective – the importance of family, character, etc. that one day when he was out clearing brush with his chainsaw, when the near-dismemberment occurred, and what is important suddenly became important to Phil. Tear streaming down face, fade to series of still shots of Phil with wife and kids, laughing, playing, etc.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

From Soul Surfers to Terrorists

I read in the Washington Times yesterday that there are a group of Israeli surfers living in an abandoned hotel on the Gaza strip, planning to stay there until evicted by the Israeli army as part of Israel's withdrawal from Gaza. The hotel was abandoned in 2000 after some type of uprising. Later that morning, Fox News is showing Palestinians celebrating getting Gaza back, with the celebration being led by members of Hamas, the Palestinian terrorist organization. If those 2 little snippets juxtaposed in your mind don't spell out the differences between Israel and its Arab neighbors, I don't know what will.

A common refrain, most recently heard from the nut job mother of the slain Army guy outside of Crawford, is that the Jews need to get out of Palestine; that little anti-semitic canard is also a very popular refrain, from what I understand, in much of Europe, where, 60 years ago, as WWII was winding down, the refrain was get the Jews out of Europe and back to Palestine. Of course they can always come here, but all of the investment banking jobs are filled, and they, unlike the millions of illegal aliens walking the streets, are not "willing to do the jobs Americans aren't willing to do."

That is the refrain heard by those in favor of immigration of all stripes - legal and illegal - even the President himself. No doubt illegal aliens form a cheap source of labor, but of course there are costs that come with that. First, a porous border makes for easy entry for those willing to do one particular job Americans aren't willing to do - like hijacking planes and flying them into sky-scrapers. But even short of that, you get quite a bit of your good old-fashioned murders.

Some will point out two obvious facts - most illegal immigrants are hard-working and law abiding citizens; and not all of those willing to blow up trains are illegal aliens - many of the UK bombers, for example, were born and bred in England. Both points are true, and neither are surprising. It is the second generation of migrants who have a more difficult time assimilating, difficult to the point where they start blowing things up or burning things down. The first generation, as poor as it often is in the states, knows the alternative, and considers itself comparatively very rich. The second generation, not knowing the poverty that their parents escaped, see the inequality of income and guys like Al Sharpton ranting and raving that the deck is stacked against anyone who isn't white, and figure - what the hell, let's blow something up.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

A Thank You Letter from the IRS

Dear Hatcher,

At this time of year, we at the IRS like to extend our thanks to some of our taxpayers who go over and above the call of duty to generate tax revenues that the U.S. Congress can spend for the greater good.

We know that as a person with Ph.D., even with poor research abilities, you could have landed at some mediocre college where you could have gotten tenured in a couple of years, and then kicked up your heels and pursued various hobbies with gusto. Your time would have been your own, and we would have been powerless to make you pay as much taxes as you did this year, in years past, and hopefully in many more years to come. Sure, you could have told yourself that you are actually foregoing income in pursuit of a greater good, but in truth you’d only be marginal entertainment to college co-eds in between their drinking binges and hook-ups (unless you taught at Lehigh, where only drinking binges would apply).

Oh sure, I know that you might have spent your free time outside of the classroom in volunteer activities that serve your community, but truth to tell we’d prefer to have the tax dollars. That way our supervisors in Congress can spend the tax money and take all of the credit for the good works such money goes toward. OK, so we are stretching the truth again a little bit here, a lot of the money goes to fund wasteful public works projects named after Robert Byrd, but you get the point – our budget here at the IRS is dependent upon keeping these guys happy, and we couldn’t do it without you.

To us, your willingness to multiply your taxable income over the academic salary you would have otherwise earned in a relaxed college setting makes you an unsung hero. Sure, we know you take a beating from some of our guys in Congress, particularly the Democrats, who decry your greed and selfishness and claim that you are not paying your fair share. But we know deep down that you could be lecturing in an ivory tower right now, paying a smidgen of the taxes you currently pay. Most who have chosen that route also decry your selfishness, and given the off-chance that one of their students isn’t hung-over during the indoctrination hour, such rhetoric may help build some political support for higher taxes, but we’ll take the sure thing of you paying a multiple of their actual tax bill over the possibility that you could help us agitate for higher taxes. Heck, your tax bill could be divided by three, and you’d still be generating more revenue for us than them.

Now, we recognize that on your payroll taxes for Social Security, your taxable earnings are capped at an amount not too far above your average academic salary. But we here at the IRS do not take kindly to those that suggest that this mitigates your heroic efforts to fund our vast government. We admit we don’t get the same revenue boost from your decision here, but that’s not your fault, and at least we know you’ll die much sooner than you might have as a teacher given the comparative stress of your career, and that will serve to reduce our liability to you nicely. So you’ll do your part in the end, and it is never too early to thank you for that.

Some may also suggest that you’ve had a few too many children for our taste, but that is an extremely myopic view. We’ll willingly grant you some tax breaks now in exchange for the potential of having four little Hatchers out there thirty years hence following in your tax-generating shoes. It sure makes FDR’s little intergenerational Ponzi scheme we like to call Social Security run a lot smoother down the line and maybe even longer, provided of course that each little Hatcher goes forth and multuplies. (Silly Catholics, where would be with respect to Social Security without you?).

In closing, if there is anything that we can do for you to make your future interaction with government agencies somewhat smoother, well, I am afraid you are shit out of luck. Equality under the law, which is part of our constitutional order as you know, requires that you have to wait in line at the DMV just as long as the shiftless ne’er do wells who have nothing but time on their hands even if you are paying a gazillion more dollars in taxes. Ironic, isn’t it? Keep the checks coming in 2005!



Friday, August 05, 2005

Other Brain Damaged States of Interest

PBryon writes: "One of the other major themes of "Blink" is that when these snap decisions are made, that those making them can't really put their finger on why they made them. It just gut instinct, without much to back it up.
Doesn't that fit our President too?

Yes, I would say that Bush does rely on gut instinct, especially about the people he chooses. And there is a large discussion in Blink of two psychologists who have characterized some 200 different facial expressions and what each reveals. One of these psychologists, who was a fan of Clinton in 1992, saw him on TV at the convention and pegged him for a liar right away based upon certain facial tics. He actually contacted the campaign to offer his services to help Clinton look less like a liar; the campaign, althought very interested (they knew their man), turned him down because they thought it would be more damaging to the campaign if people found out they were consulting a psychologist to make Clinton look truthful. Now, that psychologist was clearly an expert, but the stories related to his work reveal two things of interest: people vary in their ability to read facial language (autistics, for example, cannot discern any body language, and rely upon literal understanding of words alone), and people convey emotions via their facial expressions that they are not consciously trying to convey (like Bush in the first debate).

Anonymous writes: "The supposition in “Blink” as I read your Blog, is that decisions made without basis can be as often correct as those made with careful thought and a justifiable basis. I did not read the book but did they actually test the decisions made without consideration of facts versus those made with consideration of facts? Does this analysis only apply to decisions that can only be evaluated after the fact on a subjective basis?"

No, the blink supposition applies to opinions that can be factually refuted. In fact, the book begins with a discussion of a statue purchased by the Getty Musuem in California for $10 million. They had a team of scientists trying to verify its authenticity for a year prior to buying, but tragically they did not consult any art experts. There were a number of such experts who, upon laying eyes on the statue for the first time, declared it a fake immediately. But, again, one of the other themes, illustrated well with the psychologists who grew more confident but no more accurate in their prognisises as they gained more information is that at some point you can get information overload, and become supremely confident in a decision that is worse than it would be if you had less information.

Professor Vic writes: "One would never suggest that medical research be conducted on the basis of "I just feel this drug should cure cancer." Similarly, the Bush Administration's gut feeling that Sadaam was a threat due to WMDs turned out to be flat out wrong and they would have been better served to continue to collect objective information about the weapons. Maybe in subjective decision making where there is no strict ordering of what is best, for example who should replace Greenspan, this Blink principle works, but I would suggest it is completely ineffective in many other applications."

The "blink" title is slightly misleading, in that the book deals more generally with the mistaken notion that more information is always better. A useful analogy might be an economist using a regression analysis to predict some variable, and including every conceivable independent variable as a predictor. With so many irrelevant variables thrown in, the predictive power of the regression goes down. In fact, one of the stories of the book pertains to the efforts of Cook County hospital to manage the flow in its ER.

Most ER patients are there because they suspect they are having a heart attack. The resources required to do a bunch of tests and to understand the patients history and habits of the patient are enormous, beyond the constraints of the hospital. They ended up testing whether four objectively measured factors, scored in a certain way, would provide superior results to the usual work-up. They ended up reducing type I (false positive) errors and type II (false negative) errors by making their doctors ignore their typical training.

As for the WMDs, unless you call decades of intelligence gathering by most Western nations equivalent to Bush's gut feelings, the analogy hardly applies. Intelligence information, by its very nature, will never be subject to an academic level of scrutiny for its accuracy - that can only happen after we've acted on our understanding of that intelligence, as we did. There is a chance, as seems to have been true with Iraq, that the intelligence ends up being biased or incorrect, but we would have never known that in all likelihood if we hadn't gone in.

Now, for some other fun brain damaged problems I learned from a book called The Midnight Disease, which talks about the neuroscience of writing, and how I might improve my own writing via depression, epilepsy, and hallucinogens. I leave it to you readers to apply these problems to your understanding of contemporary politics.

First, Wernicke's aphasia: Wernicke's aphasia is caused by damage to an area (Wernicke's area) of the temporal lobe of the brain. The speech of someone with Wernicke's aphasia is at least partially nonsensical, but those with the condition are generally unaware that they don't make sense. An example of the speech is as follows:

...oh hear but that was a long time ago that was when that when before I even knew that much about this place although I am a little suspicious about what the hell is the part there is one part scares, uh estate spares, OK that has a bunch of drives in it and a bunch of good googin, nothing real big but that was in the same time I coached them I said hey stay out of the spear struggle stay out of trouble so don't get and my kids, uh, except for the body the boys are pretty good although lately they have become winded or something... what the hell... kind of platz goasted klack...

It reminds of that jailhouse educated character that Daymon Wayons played in Living Color, where he talks with these very complex juxtaposed words that make absolutely no sense, but he delivers his soliloquies as if he makes perfect sense. Kind of like Jesse Jackson.

Broca's aphasia is caused by damage to an area of the frontal lobe, and leads to difficulty with normal use of langauge, either spoken or written. Broca's aphasia patients can comprehend language much better than they can produce it, struggling with each word. They have more trouble with syntax and grammar than with semantics. Here is a patient with Broca's aphasia telling the story of Cinderella:

Patient: Cinderella ... poor ... um 'dopted her ... scrubbed floor, um, tidy ... poor, um ... 'dopted ... Si-sisters and mother ... ball. Ball, prince um, shoe ...

Examiner: Keep going.

Patient: Scrubbed and uh washed and un ... tidy, uh, sisters and mother, prince, no, price, yes. Cinderella hooked prince. Um, um, shoes, um, twelve o'clock ball, finished.

Examiner: So what happened in the end?

Patient: Married.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

The Bat Bike Regatta

If I could tell the story of the Suck-‘Em Santas on this blog, I can surely tell the comparatively tame story of the Bat-Bike Regatta, another event of no redeeming value that involved many bars. The Bat-Bike Regatta was a summertime event, intended to hit every single bar on the South Jersey island that is home to the towns of Stone Harbor and Avalon. The island stretches about 6 or 7 miles north to south, with most of the bars their within a five mile strip. Too far to walk, for sure, but not too much ground to cover on a “bat-bike.” If I recall, and it is difficult to recall, a bat-bike was the nickname applied to a popular sort of retro-bike that was ubiquitous down the shore. Bat-bikes generally were gearless contraptions with coaster brakes, exaggeratedly rounded frame elements painted in basic colors, oversized pear-shaped seats with two big springs underlying them to cushion the ride, and simple u-shaped handlebars with plastic grips at either end.

The assumption, and it is generally a bad one on an island filled with twenty-something drunks, was that a bat-bike was low-maintenance in terms of theft prevention. There was no need to lock them, or so went the popular wisdom, because simplicity made them a silly thing to risk incarceration over. Some of the stories I recall from my days down the shore I now doubt the accuracy of because they border on the verge of urban legend status, and one in particular seems too perfect to be true. A lifeguard from Sea Isle, the next island north, who frequented some of the Stone Harbor bars, decided the best way to get back to Sea Isle one night after closing time was to steal a bat-bike. Penniless, he came upon the toll booth that sits atop the bridge between the islands that stretches over the inlet, and was required to pay a $0.25 toll, which applied to anything with wheels. Pressed to produce the toll by a diligent tollmaster, and knowing that no toll was required for walkers, he walked the bike from the toll booth to the edge of the bridge, hoisted the frame in the air and clear of the bridge rail, threw the bat-bike straight into the bay, and walked on.

In any given bat-bike regatta, moreover, a participant may be unwittingly cruising the streets on a once-stolen bike. In the first event I participated in, a friend hooked me up with a classic bat-bike, perfect for the event. I proudly pedaled it to the starting point of the event at Touche, and left it in the crush of piled up bat bikes left by other regatters eager for their first drink. I joined them forthwith, and while sipping my cocktail moments later, a couple of our merry band came laughing up to the bar, sharing a rather amusing observation. As they were parking their bikes with the others, an older couple walking by the bar came to a sudden hault, with the man eyeing up one of the bikes. He concluded quickly that the bike was the precise one that was stolen off of his property earlier in the summer. He grabbed the bike and stole it right back. A great story, no doubt, except for one fact – the bike was mine for the event. I had to scramble for a replacement, though I did manage.

I don’t know who hatched the idea for the first bat bike regatta, but in the case of the ones I participated in, the event was clearly animated by the personality of John Evans, nicknamed both “Snake” and “Worm.” It is hard to understand the transforming passion that some people feel toward an event that takes place once per year, but Snake seemed to value the bat bike regatta above all other things. He was the primary organizer and recognized leader of the group, setting the course and ushering regatters from bar to bar on schedule. Snake was a cross-country and track runner at Penn State, and a fellow guard in Stone Harbor. As a runner myself, we always had plenty to talk about. He once recounted to me that some group of medical school faculty wanted to measure the effects of intense athletic training upon sperm production, and so they came to the cross-country team to draw all of their subjects. Snake refused to participate, deeply offended that the researchers would simply assume that all cross-country runners masturbate.

There was no honor among thieves at the bat bike regatta, so one always had to be careful that someone within the group didn’t ride off on your bike. It is one of those mysteries of the universe, that the number of people in the regatta stayed the same, but as the drinking progressed, one by one bikes would mysteriously start to dwindle. This usually meant two things: you would either be riding someone or be ridden double at some point during the event, and that there was some decent probability you would have to do some explaining the next day to the owner who lent you your bike.

The first one I participated in was about 4 or 5 days prior to my 21st birthday. The event started early, so being carded was not a problem for most of the event. But when we finally wound our way back to Fred’s Tavern in Stone Harbor, I was rejected at the door. It was about 11 pm, and defeated at the door, I started to stroll down 96th street to head home, when the Hanford twins drove by. They were going to Snickers and asked me to join, so I figured – what the hell, one last shot at getting into a bar underage couldn’t hurt.

We approached the door to Snickers, and a black man big as a house was working the door. I hand him my ID, looking straight past him with my hand out to receive the ID back, playing it cool, like my eyes are already plotting my path to the bar. He reads the ID, looks at me, my eyes still fixed on my next task, and says the ID clearly shows my birthday is still 4 days away. Without any planning, in what I consider the funniest spontaneous line I’ve ever delivered, I said “yeah, yeah, yeah, the ID says August 3rd, but my due date was July 20, I was two weeks late – Cesarian section (not true), it was real ugly.” The house laughed, handed me the ID, and told me to have fun.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Ventromedially Damaged

I just read Blink, a book about what we subonsciously know before we consciously know something. In it, the author talks a little about studies done on patients with damage to the brain in an area called the ventromedial prefontal cortex, an area of the brain that is critical to making decisions. One of the neurologists who performed these experiments describes trying to set up an appointment with a patient:

"I suggested two alternative dates, both in the coming month and just a few days apart from each other. The patient pulled out his appointment book and began consulting the calendar. The behavior that ensued was remarkable. For the better part of a half an hour, the patient enumerated reasons for and against each of the two dates: previous engagements, proximity to other engagements, possible meteorological conditions, virtually anything that one could think about concerning a simple date. He was walking us through a tiresome cost-benefit analysis, an endless outlining and fruitless comparison of options and possible consequences. It took enormous discipline to listen to all of this without pounding on the table and telling him to stop."

The gist of the book is that sometimes we are able to make decisions, often times the right decisions, without necessarily knowing consciously why they are the right decisions. In a later section, the author describes an experiment where a group of psychologists were asked to consider the case of a particular patient. Each psychologist would be given some information, followed by a multiple choice test about the patient. After the first round, the psychologists would be given more detailed information, and asked to answer the same 25 question multiple choice test. More rounds of the same were repeated. With each new set of information provided, the psychologists reported greater and greater confidence in their answers to the test, changing 9-10 answers with each successive round. But in the end their overall accuracy did not improve. The designer of the experiment commented that as they received more information, "their certainty about their own decisions became entirely out of proportion to the actual correctness of those decisions."

The Bush presidency has been called, and not in a necessarily critical way, the "blink" presidency, based upon the notions that have come from this book. I think there is something to that characterization, for better or for worse. The key insight of the book, it seems to me, is that decisions made in a blink are not always for the worse compared to a more deliberative process, as is typically assumed in the Presidential role. It seemed to me that in the most recent election, for example, Kerry might have been the better able of the two to describe the pros and cons of a given decision, but the less able to actually make a decision. I think the same was true for Clinton. Whereas the errors of these two were (and would most likely be) the result of ommission - simply failing to do anything while you endlessly consider all options, the errors of Bush are likely to be those of commission (though I personally don't think he's made many of these). Democrats suffer from an image of weakness on foreign policy for this very reason - if there is a part of the ventromedial prefrontal cortex that deals with foreign policy, their's is clearly damaged.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Baseball Diaries

“Jake, pick a toy … we gotta get going.”

Jake, with two toys in eyesight, starts the decision mechanism: “eenie, meenie, miny, moe, catch a tiger by the toe, if he hollers make him pay fifty dollars every day.” He knows that is what you are supposed to say to make a decision, but he hasn’t grasped the idea of shifting his gaze from one toy to the other with each new word, choosing the one he lands on with the last word. So he gets to the end, and there he is, still looking at the two toys, no closer to a decision. He pauses, wheels turning in his head, and then affirmatively grabs and lifts the toy of choice.

The rule against bringing toys with them in the new car did not last long, and so a critical mass of toys lays strewn across the seats and floor of the two back rows of seats. But sometimes the toys include the baseball gloves, as the twins have been playing their first season of T-ball for the Rangers in the Babe Ruth league of Arlington. Coach Cody rotates the guys positions in the field each inning, so the twins are playing every position, although most of the action involves the pitcher and the first baseman. At the plate, Billy swings from the left and Joey from the right, each connecting with the underhand pitches about 2 out of every three at bats; 3 misses of the pitches, and you resort to the tee.

Aside from a small bump in the road in Game 1, when Joey got tagged out at home, and was unable to restrain the tears, it’s been nothing but smiles and fun. Every kid bats in the inning, and batters usually advance one base at a time, but when the last batter steps to the plate, we just have him clear the bases. Joey, as the last batter, got tagged out going home, the first to be tagged out on the team. There was a brief moment of pause, and then the tears, and then the constant exhortation from dad to get back on the field. He didn’t go back willingly, but he did go back. We explained to him later that that was part of the game, and nothing to be upset about, and he’s been great ever since. Later, he remarked how fast he was, but that the guy who tagged him out was really fast – which wasn’t really true, the kid was more or less sitting there waiting for Joey to come home, but it was cute.

Billy, on the other hand, is all about keeping score. He’s a bit of a logician, in that rather than counting runs scored by the teams, he takes the easier route of counting the number of guys tagged out. Except he usually only notices when his own team tags out the opposition. Playing pitcher in the last inning of the first game, he talked trash the whole time. He appears to have all of the qualities that lead to success in business – he totally overestimates his abilities, remembering only his successes, and speaks with a degree of self-assurance that will allow him to skate through business meetings having everyone in the room ready to hitch their wagon to him because a guy that self-assured must be self-assured for good reason. Only thing is – he won’t have to be a businessman. Why not? At the tender age of five, he pulled off an unassisted double play, which is only half the story – he did it from right field. I already have a binding contract with him specifying me as his agent – I get one-third percent.

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