Thursday, March 23, 2006

I Was A Whiny Kid

Professor Vic:

"The study seems like the usual crap that passes for in-depth pyschological research Berkely-style so far as I can tell from the article I read."

You know, this sort of swipe at a scholar whose result you don't like is just ignorant. You have no basis for your accusation other than you don't like the idea that you might have been a whiny kid.

In fact, the study's author, Jack Block, is highly regarded in the field. Begun in 1968 at UC Berkeley by Jack and Jeanne Block, the "Block Study" has generated some of the richest data in the field of developmental psychology.

If you're interested in how life unfolds--how we become who we are--you really have to follow people from early childhood into adulthood," says UCSC associate professor of psychology Per Gjerde. "This study is unparalleled and provides a rich research and training resource for our students." The project has been funded by the National Institute of Mental Health every year for more than 25 years and has generated more than 100 research papers, some of which are classics in their fields. (Source: University of Southern California Review)

But apparently in Hatch's world all research is crap if you don't like the result.

Please Vic, next time keep it shorter and go with "Jane, you ignorant slut." Had I known Jack Black was involved, I might have concluded differently - I loved him in School of Rock. Chalk up my ignorant comment to bounded rationality - dismissing the whole research program on the basis of what I know about 1 of 100 research papers is just the price these psychologists have to pay when the one paper that gets any press is clearly an asinine study.

Don't you think the causal explanation of whiney kids becoming conservatives and confident, resilient, self-assured kids becoming liberals is just a little self-flattering? Without calling the limited correlation these guys observed into question, please explain to me the science that establishes that the whiney kid ends up being "conservative" because he seeks easy certainty in an ambiguous and frightening world. There is as much science in my partially facetious comparison of adult whininess as there is in their's, which is to say that there is none. There is just an opinion of causation, with no effort (or perhaps way) to test it. The difference between me and them is that I know I shouldn't be taken seriously.

I didn't read this paper in depth, but I did read in great depth a prior article co-written by one of this guy's colleagues at Berkely, so much so that I felt motivated to put together a book proposal intended to mock the entire line of research. That article had the same "we liberals are so comfortable in an ambiguous world" pat on the collective backs of everyone in the Berkely psychology department, so I am not completely ignorant of what lies beneath that line of reasoning.

The whiniest of my four children really improved on that score when we found out, at around the age of 3, that he was allergic to the planet. Amazing what a few allergy pills will do for a kid with allergies. I'd like to think that maybe those allergies are a blessing, because clearly whiney kids turn out to be conservatives (who are happier than liberals in adulthood, by the way), but I am not quite smart enough to get the 25 straight years of NIH grants necessary to believe such mallarky. Given that there are probably one thousand other independent factors that may affect whininess in kids, which are separate from one thousand other independent factors that may affect political preferences, I'll continue to doubt results drawn from a sample of 100 kids. (I don't remember much econometrics, but I am pretty sure I am on solid ground when I say there are too few degrees of freedom here - PatB, please go easy on me if this is a completely stupid thing to say).

You could argue that my ignorant response is proof of their claim - my sense of certainty is thrown off kilter by their "science," and so I just condemn the research because I don't like the results. If the author of this particular paper were a woman, you might say "she blinded me with science," but if Larry Summers taught me anything, it would be that "she" blinding me with science is not very likely. And if the example of Summers tells us anything, it is that a reaction like mine is more likely to make me tenured Harvard faculty in the department of Humanities than a conservative, given how they react to findings they don't like. And ten years ago if you stood in the center of most campuses and yelled "Bell Curve," in reference to more scholarly research not to the liking of your colleagues in academia, you could arguably be accused of inciting a riot.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

A Theory of Comparative Whininess

From an article in the Toronto Post:

Remember the whiny, insecure kid in nursery school, the one who always thought everyone was out to get him, and was always running to the teacher with complaints? Chances are he grew up to be a conservative.

At least, he did if he was one of 95 kids from the Berkeley area that social scientists have been tracking for the last 20 years. The confident, resilient, self-reliant kids mostly grew up to be liberals.

The study from the Journal of Research Into Personality isn't going to make the UC Berkeley professor who published it any friends on the right.

The study seems like the usual crap that passes for in-depth pyschological research Berkely-style so far as I can tell from the article I read. But what would be interesting is a comparison of the whininess exhibited in adulthood by the conservatives in the sample versus the liberals. If the recently reported happiness gap is indicative, it would seem that liberals might be more whiney adults on average, since lack of happiness cannot possibly be their own fault when it says right there in the Declaration of Independence that the Government should provide for their pursuit of happiness.

As far as whiney personalities go, let me play armchair psychologist for a moment, and offer up a theory based upon my admittedly limited parenting experience, and more importantly based upon having avoided any formal training in the psychology of personality development. Do you want a kid who doesn't whine? I'll tell you how you get one. You give the kid everything he demands, and shield him from all the consequences of his own behavior. If he wants candy for breakfast, serve it up. If he wants to stay up until midnight watching TV, make sure you get him HD. If (assuming our subject is in Berkely), he wants a hit from your bong at the tender age of 12, don't be judgmental, and more importantly don't be stingy. You never punish him, criticize him, or express any disappointment.

If you choose the opposite course - to set limits and hold a kid accountable for errant behavior, expect to hear a good deal of whining. Learning that there are certain constraints in the world is a tough lesson, and none of us really want to learn that lesson, but the whiney kid is probably learning it at an earlier age.

My bet is that the self-assured Berkely first grader is shielded from that lesson for a long time, and that it never sinks in. His whining begins when the world, rather than his parents, sets out to teach him. He had no limits in the carefree happy days of childhood - and now all of the consequences he suffers as an adult for irresponsible behavior are not viewed as necessary consequences - instead they are viewed as consequences that stem from the formerly whiny classmates who are now meanly cutting off his welfare. That formerly whiny classmate, in contrast, knows from the get-go that you can't always get what you want, and that fact comes as no surprise to him upon reaching adulthood. So he doesn't wine when life reinforces a lesson he already knows well.

Undoubtedly, most liberals are themselves not the recipients of government largesse, and some would have even been taught life's lessons early by responsible parents. But I would argue that they seem to hold the view that if this lesson somehow escapes others in childhood, it is partially the government's role to make sure they don't have to learn it the hard way, or even any way, in their adulthood. That view is motivated by an implicit assumption that certain people cannot learn to become responsible for themselves, even if faced with some serious consequences. You have to believe something like that to think that a government handout alleviates, rather than prolongs, misery. Liberals of this stripe, for example, would never parent in the same way they would govern.

Friday, March 17, 2006

St. Patty's Day Thoughts

Some readers may say it is to my eternal shame that I have no good St. Patty's day drinking story to share with you today, but one element of most great drinking stories is their unpredictability - you don't set out to have one. Call it the zen of drinking - if you want a drinking bout to produce a fond lifelong memory, the worst thing you can do is have that as a goal going in.

Lacking any in depth knowledge of why we celebrate St. Patty's day, it is an uncontroversial assertion to say that the day's ubiquitous popularity stems from it having become a secular celebration of the means of adult celebration - that is, a celebration of alcohol and inebriation. Such a celebration doesn't discriminate between Gentile or Jew, or between Irish and Guinea Wap Degos (Italians). I cannot imagine the reason for hooking the celebration of alcohol to a Saint, but the Irish part makes a lot of sense, at least to the bigoted White Anglo-Saxon Protestant establishment, who view the Irish as consummate drunkards. (There are worse ways to be viewed.) If we ever start celebrating marijuana and getting high, we'll no doubt all dress like Bob Marley for a day, and maybe we'll even seek out a Rastafarian saint to mark the day by.

In any event, I came across the following article concerning a magazine called the Modern Drunkard that most readers of this blog probably already subscribe to: It is somewhat humorous, especially when it gives a few representative article titles. My favorite among them - How to Ace an Intervention - the title alone is pure comic genius.

Whatever you are doing right now, or at any time during the day, remember this: somewhere Ted Kennedy is three sheets to the wind. The shrewd reader will note that I could write this in a post on any old day, and it would be no less true. But the point is this - drinking is a non-partisan activity. So it is important on certain days of the year to just get yourself to a bar and celebrate drinking, even if you risk have Ted throw up on your shoes. And get there before he drinks all the Chartreuse.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Mor Mune

Bill is learning about the distinction between wants and needs at school, and on one sheet had to fill in the blank on the following sentence: "My mom and dad want _____." His insertion: "mor mune." Phonetically to a kindergartner that is equivalent to "more money," but the mortified Wife of Hatcher tried to explain to his teacher that "munes" are like modern day indulgences that save you time in purgatory, and that you win them by doing selfless deeds. Meanwhile, I took Billy aside and explained to him the error of his ways - it is not more money for its own sake that we want - it is the things that we can buy with more money that matter. And even more than the things we buy, it is the things we buy that our neighbors can't afford that really matter. He's only a kid - he'll learn.

Meanwhile Joe has established himself as a kindergarten chick magnet. I wish I could say that makes him a chip off of the old block, but most readers of the blog know me personally and would get too good a laugh from that one. We went to a Valentine's dance at his school, and he literally had three girls fighting over him. When we left and remarked to him how much the ladies dig him, he laughed and said "it's like I'm famous for the girls." Another day at the park the Wife of Hatcher met the mother of a kid Bill and Joe know from summer camp, whose son is also in kindergarten but in a separate class, and when the women figured out the Wife of Hatcher was Joe's mom, she said she heard from another mother of a girl in Joe's class that all the girls love Joey. He's a cute kid, but it goes to show that girls are superficial because his most prevelant talent to date is making fart noises with his armpit.


Barry! Shocker! He took steroids?!?! I reproduced a debate between me and Professor Vic on this very topic in the pages of Ideas Hatched, and must now say, as I often do, that I feel like I've locked down that debate victory pretty good and clean. I'd like to see the pitchers collude and just intentionally walk him until he retires. At the very least, he shouldn't get into the Hall. Joe jackson made a couple bucks a day and took money for throwing the Series in 1918, and he's been excluded from the Hall as one of the game's best players for damaging the integrity of a game that at the time barely provided a living. Now you got Bonds, who probably made enough to retire on in his first three years in the league, damaging the integrity of the game far more severely in my view. Not to mention the fact that he's an ass with a chip the size of a continent on his shoulder. Not to mention the fact that he thinks he's perceived as an ass for racist reasons (which may augment that perception among some, but which by no means is a necessary quality to view him as such), which makes him even more of an ass.

It reminds me of that new Kobe Nike commercial, in black and white, with him saying all these reasons to hate him, and ending by saying hate the fact that people love me for the same reasons you hate me. The problem with that commercial is no one hates him for the reasons he says in the commercial - they hate him because he is an ass who (at a minimum) cheated on the mother of his newborn baby. Amazingly enough, if he had mentioned that in the list, the last line of the commerical would have been no less true, because that whole incident provided him street cred among certain people.


Supreme Court 8-0 on Yale Law School's attempt to bar the ROTC from recruiting because of its don't ask/don't tell policy toward gays. Here is something to ponder: how is that the professors at what some consider the top law school in the country couldn't see that they'd lose even Ginsburg's vote on this one? The Roberts majority opinion basically said, not only could Congress withold federal aid from the school if the school refused to allow ROTC recruitment (which was the question at hand), but also even if Yale gave up the federal aid and tried to stand on its principles, Congress could ram the ROTC right down their throat. Beautiful. The Yale professors had some high-minded statement of their principles in this case - bully for them - but it will be interesting to see, now that there is some money at stake in standing by their principles, how quickly they'll duck from them.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Did Pollock Intelligently Design His Paintings?

I recently read that some art experts had verified the authenticity of some 50 paintings by Jackson Pollock, whose trademark works all involve canvases spattered with different colors of paint. Presumably because he didn't have the talent to make the dogs playing poker look lifelike. Anyway, these paintings were willed to the daughters of some photographer that used to be a friend of Pollock. Contra the art experts who have verified their authenticity, there is a physicist in Oregon, with a degree in art history, who claims they are frauds.

His basis? In the known body of Pollock's paint splatters, he has shown that the paintings exhibit fractal geometry (, and he claims the newly discovered paintings do not. This means that if you were to look at one small piece of one of his authentic paintings, you would discern a pattern in the size and the placement of the paint splatters, and the small piece you are looking at, if viewed as part of the whole, would itself be like one splatter in the larger pattern of the painting, with that larger pattern being very similar to the smaller pattern.

The physicist, having discovered the fractal pattern, has asserted that Pollock must have had an intuitive understanding of nature. He seems to think that Pollock at least sub-consciously intelligently designed his paintings. But I think that interpretation is not the only interpretation of the facts - the fractal pattern may have been the result of a natural process. If fractals are common in nature, where structure is determined by certain rules of interaction, then a simple rule for throwing paint at a canvas could conceivably produce the fractal pattern.

Picture Pollock in his studio, moments after painting another unrecognizable dog with a straight flush, knowing that no one will know what the hell it is, and knowing that it will never sell. The other artists are teasing him - "you might as well just blindfold yourself and throw paint at the canvas from a distance of three feet or so, and you'll probably get a more life like depiction of a poker playing dog." And just like Steve Martin in the Jerk, when he is about to name his dog hero but changes it to sh#*head at the snide suggestion of a cynic, Pollock proceeds to take a few steps back from the canvas to start hurling paint.

I think this would be a great project for Professor Vic when he gets tenure - try to discover the "rule" that produces a Pollock. My bet is that it involves a few varying motions of simulated throwing with brush in hand, repeated over and over, with shots of Chartreuse in between hurls. It has to be more fun than his current research.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The Dingo Stole My Baby

It's March, and you know what that means ... Oscar's time! (And you thought I was going to say March Madness). Actually, I must confess I've never watched the Oscars, which come to think of it is less of a confession than a point of pride. I wish they had a movie awards show where the movies considered were only those with extremely sophomoric humor. This year would have been a good year for it, what with Wedding Crashers (excellent), 40 year old Virgin (good), Duece Bigelow - European Gigilo (very good), and of course Brokeback Mountain (not a comedy per se, but if watched with a group of similarly homophobic men in a setting where we could make comments to each other out loud, it would probably be a real hoot). Barring an award show geared to the fraternity set, they should at least have a show that mocks all of the pretensions of the serious movies.

But it is important to see a lot of movies, if for no other reason than you may be able to pull out an obscure movie reference for a joke. I remember back when Meryl Streep was at the peak of her powers - at the time a director could have simply cut to a 10 second segment of Streep's torso with her obviously sitting on a toilet constipated - and that alone would make her a lock for best supporting actress. In any event, she did a movie based on a true story where she was a mother in Australia whose baby was stolen by a dingo, and she was accused of having murdered the baby (since there is after all no right for a women to choose at a certain point). In the pivotal scene where she discovers the baby is stolen, she runs around frantically saying "the dingo stole my baby" in an absurd Australian accent. Obscure movie, no doubt.

Flash ahead maybe a decade, and the Flying Tomato (though I didn't go by that name at the time) is at a Christmas party at a neighbors house holding Jake, who was all of three weeks old at the time. I am talking to a woman, when the resident dog, being of a breed so rare and expensive that it was not necessarily hard to mistake for something other than a dog, dashed by unexpectedly between me and the woman. Without thinking, I said in my best Meryl Streep Australian accent - "that dingo almost took my baby." And she got the joke. Then we did a shot of Chartreuse and laughed with the joy of the holiday.

Sign up for my Notify List and get email when I update!

powered by