Rolling Stones gather no Confirmation Bias

Everyone believes very easily whatever he fears or desires

Buskers at 50th St Subway Station NYC
While I enjoy Kanye West as an artist, as a human being, he seems like a lout.

So when a posting came up on Facebook that said that he did another douchebag thing, I shared it only to find out later it wasn’t true.

The thing is, I assume he’s a douchebag so when I read something that proves it, I immediately believe it.

What irritated me most about that was that I should’ve known better.

One of the few things I remember from my first year in Prof. Maas‘ Psych 101 Class – waaaaaay back in 1990 – was the idea of confirmation bias, which essentially echoes poet Jean De la Fontaine idea that Everyone believes very easily whatever he fears or desires.

So when the Rolling Stone article about the UVA rape case was found to be completely false over the weekend, I thought of Prof. Maas and De la Fontaine again.

Rolling Stone and the authors wanted to believe that colleges are a hotbed of rape and misbehavior and found evidence to prove their position.

Only they didn’t. Instead, they just made it harder for genuine rape cases to be believed.

I see it every single day on Facebook. People that have evidence that aspartame and tilapia will kill you, Obama is a secret Muslim, and that jet fuel cannot melt steel.

It’s a daily thing – and something I perpetuated myself with Kayne West, because I wanted to believe he’s a douchebag and found evidence to support this, even when I didn’t.

Beliefs are dangerous things and they cloud judgement, even from those that should know better.

Still, it’s better to appreciate this with the smaller, insignificant things, than to realize it with bigger, more meaningful things. Just ask Rolling Stone magazine.

 

Location: in midtown later at midday for some afternoon cognac
Mood: hopeful
Music: People around gotta find something to say now
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Robinson Crusoe died wishing he was on the island

Mishaps are like knives, that either serve us or cut us

Home on an island in Bermuda
In my spare time, I’ve been writing a break-up book. Figured it’s the logical extension of the other two dating books I wrote

One thing I truly believe is to try to distance yourself from the pain of the breakup – or any pain, really – and try to appreciate the good things that come out of it.

While I don’t believe in that old saw that “everything happens for a reason,” I do believe what this poet named James Russell Lowell said:

Mishaps are like knives, that either serve us or cut us, as we grasp them by the blade or by the handle.

I started blogging during a really bad period of my life. But during that period, I had some pretty fun nights, met some incredible people – some of whom are among my best friends today – and, of course, met my favorite person.

And during that time, I listened to songs from singers like KT Tunstall, Camera Obscura, and Imoegen Heap; now, whenever I hear anything from them, I’m reminded of that time. And I look back on it fondly.

Did you know that Robinson Crusoe was based on a real guy? He was a fella named Alexander Selkirk that ended up alone on an island for four years and four months. After he was rescued, he became a multimillionaire and celebrity.

But he realized that that time alone ended up being some of the best times in his life. He died wishing that he was back on his islands with his goats and his thoughts.

In fact, when he could live anywhere in the world, he lived in a cave by himself for a bit. And one of his last thoughts was, I am now worth 800 Pounds, but shall never be so happy, as when I was not worth a Farthing.

Now, this isn’t like my usual rambling post so much as it is a letter to a friend to whom I say this:

Most people handle life as they do bad weather: they wait for it to stop.

Don’t be most people, because you’re not most people.

Try to enjoy these difficult times while you can, as odd as that might sound. Because it’s only just for now and it’ll be over before you know it.

In any case, I’m always (not so secretly) on your side.

Location: back to the gym again
Mood: content
Music: that time of year, leave all our hopelessness aside
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Genetic Fallacies and the Citibank Building

Listening’s a lot harder when your ego’s on the line

Citibank Building in Manhattan 3

Him: I don’t understand what happened.
Me: Maybe there’s a reason why they went with someone else.

That’s a picture of the Citibank building here in Manhattan. I took it along with the picture below in March of last year for another entry.

About a month after I took it, read this article that said that the building was ridiculously flawed.

How ridiculous? There was a 1-in-16 year chance that the entire building would come tumbling down with a strong wind.

That’s pretty ridiculous.

But the weirdest thing about how this all unfolded was that a female college student from NJ figured out it was flawed, tracked down the lead engineer, and contacted him to tell him that his design was fatally flawed.

And despite haven’t any number of reasons to not listen to her, he did.

Then, as Hurricane Eva was barreling down onto the East Coast in 1978, NYC and these engineers all secretly fixed the problem. All without most of the city finding out. In fact, most people didn’t learn about it until 1995.

Citibank Building in Manhattan 1

I thought of this recently when a colleague of mine was wondering why he lost a major account. I knew why. So I told him.

There’s this illogical argument called a genetic fallacy, where you don’t want to believe something that someone says because of the person saying it.

The engineer could have sneered at any one of the things about the person contacting him: her sex, where she was from, her age, her experience, etc.

But he didn’t. Because he was smart enough to realize she was right. That’s something I still find really amazing.

People wanna have any number of reasons they believe what they believe. Even if it’s not true.

Him: (later, upset) What do you know? You’re a lawyer, not a psychologist.
Me: This is true. But what I said is also true.

Location: midtown east
Mood: tired but super happy
Music: You’ve got the talkin’ down, just not the listening
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Bad luck is better than worse luck

You never know what worse luck your bad luck has saved you from

Fire in the UWS
A few days ago, rented a car to go that birthday party and also pick up a buddy from the airport.

Unfortunately, the tiny compact car I’d reserved had a dead battery.

So I called up the car rental company and told them that they needed to get me a replacement.

Customer Care: I’m so sorry about that! The only thing we have is an SUV. Do you want that? No additional charge.
Me: Sure, I’ll take anything. I just gotta go.

After losing about twenty minutes, the wife and I were on our way.

But during this time, the snow began to fall. It was only supposed to be an inch or so but it was clear that it’d be more.

A lot more.

Me: We gotta go.
Her: OK, let’s start saying our goodbyes.

Not long after arriving, we were back on the road. Had to call up my buddy and say we weren’t coming to get him.

Thankfully, we had that larger car so getting back home wasn’t all that bad.

This writer named Cormac McCarthy once said that, You never know what worse luck your bad luck has saved you from.

The thing is, it’s rare to actually realize that this is the case. This was one of those rare times.

But really, you could go through your whole life thinking you had terrible luck while, in reality, you’re far better off than if you had gotten what you wanted in the first place.

Moon in the daytime

Alternatively, you could always try and see the positive, however, small, of everything that’s ever happened to you.

This poet warrior – and I think that it’s telling he was a poet and warrior – named Mizuta Masahide once had a poem that went:

Since my house burned down
I now own a better view
of the rising moon

But there’s an even shorter translation I prefer. I told you about it once. It goes:

Barn’s burnt down —
now
I can see the moon.

Location: last night, shoveling all that damn snow
Mood: thoughtful
Music: She is running to stand still
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Everything is easy once someone shows you how

Bart-Oh-Low-May-Day and the Egg

Egg of Columbus from WikiCommons
(c) Wikicommons

Today is Columbus Day here in the States and for years, I rolled my eyes at people that felt it should be renamed. Tradition and whatnot.

Then someone sent me this Oatmeal comic, which I found pretty eye-opening. Ended up doing some more reading and he really was a horrible human being.

So now I’m in the other camp and agree that the name – although not the holiday itself – should be reconsidered.

Still, there’s this apocryphal story I like about him, which is called the Egg of Columbus.

The story goes that a buncha dudes were sitting around Columbus and essentially saying that, at some point, someone from Europe would have “found” America.

Columbus ignores them and, instead, asks for an egg.

He says to the men, “Stand this egg up one side.” The men can’t. So he then takes it, cracks the bottom of it, and then stands it up.

Then he says something like, Everything is easy once someone shows you how.

I imagine he then throws the deuce, flips the table over, tells them all the screw themselves, and says, peace out.

My brother did something similar when I was a little kid – the balancing the egg part.

I couldn’t figure it out and then he took some salt, poured it on the table, and sat the egg up in that. Some 30 years later, and I still remember it.

Speaking of which, he figured out how to save (most of) the pictures from my camera card.

Smart fella, my brother. Everything is easy once someone shows you how.

Now off to work – no Bartolomé/Indigenous People Day for this fat boy.
UFC Fighter Angela Hill at Formerly Crows

Here’s one of the few pictures that made it through – with Angela Hill from the UFC.

Location: The New World
Mood: excited
Music: baby, as long as skies are blue
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The Past and the Virginia Tidewater Accent

Why is it the Top 40?


Did you ever wonder why the music countdown was always the Top 40? Why not the top 30, or 50?

The reason is because early jukeboxes could only hold 40 songs. So, decades later, we’re still constrained by figures and things that are no longer relevant.

I think about that a good deal: Why things are the way they are.

As I teach my fencing art and continue to wrassle, I’m ever vigilant to wonder if things are done for a good reason or if that’s just how things have always been done – and if the latter, why.

The core of the fulfilled life is the life that wonders why. And I think we all – in our own way – wonder about our purpose.

On a related note, I found the video above fascinating because you can hear how accents changed over time – how a UK accent can become an American Southern accent over time.

It’s a great commentary on how environment and time affects things to make the so different from what they once were that they’re no longer recognizable as what they once were.

On the flip side, though, I probably lie awake too long at wondering.

Lie Awake

Location: a building with someone that is starkers
Mood: irritated
Music: It’s simple and eternal, the sum of where we’re made
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The story of Tyre, Alexander, and the Elvis Barbershop

The Siege of Tyre and things that matter

Screen Shot of the Elvis Barbershop
Somewhere across the world, there’s a barbershop in Lebanon called the Elvis Barbershop. It’s located at the red marker you see above.

There’s nothing particularly interesting about the Elvis Barbershop except that I like its name – who names a barbershop “Elvis?”

It’s located in the city of Tyre, which is a peninsula off of the mainland.

Siege of Tyre.
Siege of Tyre. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But it wasn’t always a peninsula. It was an island for probably millions of years when Alexander the Great came by in 332 BC.

Alexander (Al, to his friends) had taken over much of the area and this was the last bit to be conquered. But the inhabitants of Tyre refused to surrender because they were an island fort with 200 ft (60 meter) walls.

And they were so arrogant that they tossed Alexander’s ambassadors over the walls to their deaths.

So Al filled in the land between the mainland and the island, pulled his weapons over, and laid siege to the island – now peninsula – for 70  days.

Afterward, he conquered the city-fortress and destroyed everything.

Fast-forward 2,400 years and there’s a fella in the world – presumably named Elvis – that has a barbershop on the ground that Alexander laid. An act only ancillary to Al’s main goal still affects the world to this day.

I’ve mentioned Alexander the Great in this blog and buncha times, mainly because he had such a profound effect on the world and how I look it.

Thought about all this because someone contacted me and said that something I wrote affected his life.

I think we all hope that the things we do have some lasting good effect far beyond ourselves.

The hope that somewhere in our wicked, wicked childhoods, we must have done something good that means something to someone.

Location: off to wrassle
Mood: thrilled
Music: nothing comes from nothing
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What color is the sun?

We don’t see things as they really are

Sun setting over Atlantic Ocean
After the craziness of the past weekend, was hoping to find some time to decompress.

Unfortunately, had a full blown night of insomnia that’s thrown me off kilter for the rest of the week.

In any case, my friend Paolina asked me if what happened over the weekend was a Big City thing or not. Didn’t know how to answer her since I spent my entire life here.

It’s like that thing I told you about years ago where a frog in a well knows nothing of the ocean.

Wonder if the fish in the sea’d be surprised to know that that we’re up here shooting each other to death over parking spaces?

Most of us spend our entire lives unaware that we’re in our own little fishbowl in the universe. Some of us realize the net result’s usually the same.

Me? I read anything I can get my hands on, trying vainly to see the world as it is, rather than what I think it to be.

But every once in a while, someone reminds me that I don’t actually see things as they are, I see things as I am. Who I am. Where I am.

The sun is white.

It’s the atmosphere that makes it seem yellow. But it’s not yellow at all and only a handful of people ever has seen it as it really is.

That bothers me some.

But then I get some sleep, eventually, and forget that I once cared to know.

Drinking at Pier I

Location: in a newish room
Mood: philosophical from lack of sleep
Music: You want me down on earth, but I am up in space
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It’s the Ides of March again (and again)

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose


My brother’s in town again so he stayed over the other night.

For over 15 years, he’s been reading Will Durant’s The Story of Civilization – he’s finally on the very last volume of the series (11). The author spent his entire adult life writing the series from 1935 to 1975; he died in 1981.

We both like history because it’s fascinating just how much it repeats itself. You could take the news about the latest scandal on cheating, double-dealing, and influence from the Roman Senate and change it to the DC Senate and no one would notice.

We’re such predictable creatures. There are the occasional surprises, though.

Right about now are the Ides of March so it was 2,058 years ago that Brutus killed Caesar.

Roman historians like Plutarch commonly note that most people – including Brutus himself – thought that Caesar was Brutus’ father.

So Brutus wasn’t just killing a politician, he was killing his father. It makes Caesar’s last words all the more pitiful, “Even you, Brutus?”

Was pretty young when I learned this and found it completely unbelievable that something as mundane as politics would drive someone to kill his own father.

But just recently an article called I lost my dad to Fox News, which talks about how politics split a father and son. It’s not really so unbelievable now.

As for me, I’m reading about the 1683 Battle of Vienna and the struggle between Muslims and the west.

There’s this French saying that goes, Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose – the more things change, the more things stay the same.

There’s something comically  tragic about that.

Me: What are you going to read after you’re finally done with the series?
Brother: I have no idea.

RedditOn a different point entirely, next Thursday, I’m doing a Reddit Ask Me Anything on the first book I wrote about gangs in the 1990s, The Men Made of Stone.

If you’re a Reddit user and/or have read the book, stop on by here and support!

Location: last night, kitchen making more chili
Mood: good
Music: Wheels are turning in the bed you make
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When you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you

Demons and Darth Vader on the Washington National Cathedral

Been sick so the insomnia’s been pretty bad.

Have you ever heard the saying, When you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you?

It’s from Friedrich Nietzsche’s “Beyond Good and Evil,” and the full quote goes:

Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And when you look into the abyss, the abyss also looks into you.

In a nutshell, the idea is that, as you fight demons, you have to be careful not to let the demons affect you so much that you’re consumed by them. And potentially even become one of them.

We see it all the time in literature and movies: Oedipus, Macbeth,  Darth Vader, etc.

It’s an explanation as to why narcotics cops can become dealers and defense lawyers become criminals themselves. It’s why we have to always be on our guard.

But lately, at night when I’m awake, the demons come and sit beside me and tell me that it won’t be ok.

And there’s always a possibility they’re right. So I listen to them.

For now, at least, they seem to be wrong and I hold out hope.

Him: I’ve got some good news!
Me: Man, I could use some. What is it?

A lot of people don’t realize that there is a grotesque of Darth Vader carved into the Washington National Cathedral in Washington DC.

It makes sense, doesn’t it? To have our modern devils beside our historic ones?

Location: an hour ago, still in bed sick
Mood: still sick, but less anxious
Music: I can’t wait, I can’t wait, I can’t wait
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