December 21, 2012

Not Lying to Your Children About Santa: A Christmas Compromise

My adamant refusal to let my daughter believe in Santa Claus is one of my least popular belief systems.

For the small minority of us whose childhood trauma resulted in parental resentment, it couldn't be simpler. We don't want our children to similarly resent us.

But for those who transitioned out of adolescence without spite, they fear my child will lose a sense of magic they remember so fondly of as a kid.

My rebuttal to date has been, "It's the presents that make it magical. Not who they're from."

They disagree. And I'm not entirely sure. So, what about this for a compromise?

What if I simply don't go out of my way to stop her belief, similarly to how I don't go out of my way to convince her the Transformers aren't real. "Now you know the Decepticons are just pretend, right sweetie?!? They're NOT real!"

I'm comfortable with the larger world of make believe we all learn to separate in our minds (some better than others).

But, I just can't lie to my daughter...about this at least.

December 20, 2012

A Post-Newton Pre-Shouting Primer on Gun Control

The United States does indeed have the most gun violence and least restrictive gun laws out of any developed country.

However, individual states and cities in the United States with the most restrictive gun laws (see Washington D.C. and Chicago) tend to have the most gun violence. For instance, my home city of Chicago is on track to reach a haunting 3,000 shootings by year end.

But, are these really contradictions? Couldn't it be that Chicago instituted these harsh gun laws in an attempt to solve an existing problem? Absolutely. It would be absurd to suggest "no-gun" policies created the problem. But, as this year's data continues to sadly stream in, it would be equally absurd to claim these policies solved it.

Surprisingly, it turns out that those who act out in murderous rampages don't respect gun-free zones. In fact, gun-free zones such as malls and schools are where mass shootings most often occur.

It was sad to see last Friday turn into a "This proves my point about gun control!" shout-fest, well before the facts of the Newton case were in. Some might argue we needed to start talking about solutions while all eyes were on Newton - that this was just another example of a growing trend of mass gun violence in this country (it's actually not).

The problem with this is people think they can throw out your entire argument when the present situation didn't unfold like you originally thought.

Because initial arguments such as "How did someone with reported mental illness receive a gun permit?!?" could be later shot down with, "Ha! It wasn't his gun! It was his mom's!" While, of course, the crux of your argument was really his ease of access. But if you had waited, you could have better constructed your argument to compete against the gut feelings people tend to have regardless of statistics.

With all that nuance in mind, you may now resume shouting.

December 17, 2012

6 AM? What am I, a milkman?

I'm still stuck on my recent discovery that while I no longer find the same jokes funny that I did at the age of 13, new 13-year olds do.

It makes me want to add comedy to my theory of transitional art. That one needs to get through slapstick comedy and yo mama jokes before thinking Russell Brand is funny (this is his audition from the film, Forgetting Sarah Marshall). Because Brand's comedy is a play off everything else. It's a new punchline to the same joke. (It also involves a rich vocabulary and a bit of pretention, which I can't help but admire.) But it only makes sense if you've already heard the joke.

For instance, if someone provides you with a set-up line referencing 6 in the morning...

"6 AM? What am I, a milkman?" is the correct and obvious answer. As a humorist, this should be your instinctual response.  But more often, we're attempting to entertain an audience who has already heard that joke before. So, you need to go further. And this is what I argue Brand does better than just about anybody else right now. His humor fools you. His punchlines are unguessable.

Now, many comedians do this well. For instance, Tommy Johnagin, one of my favorite stand-ups from the last five years offered his take on that same punchline with, "I don't get up in single digits."

Same joke. New angle on the delivery. Made me laugh again.

Now, I haven't heard the Russell Brand take on this premise. But I assume it would be something like, "What sins are you attempting to hide from the sun?"

It's all the same joke. But the new slant prevents staleness.

Always be listening for set-up lines. But don't offer the easy punchline, unless there are 13-year olds present.

December 10, 2012

I Respect Your Beliefs, As Long as They're Especially Crazy

People's diet choices, their political choices, we fight them on.

We question the nutrient density of a vegan lifestyle if we believe differently.

We question the long-term fiscal responsibility of a Keynesian agenda if we believe differently.

Yet, if they're Buddhist, we respect that without question. If they're Mormon, we respect that without question. Oh, you believe in an invisible god? That's cool. That's your religion.

Or, perhaps it verges on psychosis?

We respect people's right to their beliefs, as long as they're especially crazy.

Everything else, we fight them on.

I think it's time to put religion on the table with everything else.

December 07, 2012

Digital Hoarders: Choosing to Delete

It won't make a good TV show. Because, it's much harder to see.

But, I'm afraid it's going to become a problem.

Saving everything, because we can.

Hoarding digital garbage.

It's not as visibly unsettling as your plastic milk top collection.

But, it's time to be free from both. Choose to delete.

December 05, 2012

Telling Old Jokes to 13-Year Old Boys for the First Time

I overheard two teenage boys talking 'Family Guy'.

The scenes and jokes they recalled surprised me - particularly the things that drove them to hysterics.

It wasn't "new" humor. It wasn't a sophisticated evolutionary deviation from what we've all experienced the past 20 years.

But then I remembered, they haven't experienced our last 20 years. The only reason I keep evolving my humor is to keep myself and my wife interested and entertained.

But every year, there will be a new generation of 13-year olds on the precipice of understanding the beauty of foundation-level sarcasm.

You don't need to be original to make people laugh - as long as it's their first time.

December 04, 2012

Using Irrational Optimism to Successfully Gamble on NFL Football

Every morning, I fill my coffee mug to the brim before carefully attempting to climb into my car.

About twice a week, I spill my coffee while doing so. While these spill sessions should teach me to fill my mug slightly lower the next time, my habits do not change. Because I don't want "less" coffee. I just won't spill it next time.

I am irrationally optimistic. And perhaps, so too, are we all. At least Dan Ariely seems to think so (my favorite TED talk ever.)

So, I think the question we're all left asking is how can we use this intrinsic knowledge of human irrationality to successfully gamble on professional football games?

NFL BETTING RULES
When betting on professional football games, you don't just pick the winner. You have to bet against the "spread". So, let's say the Patriots are playing at home against the Browns. You can't just bet the Patriots, because who would bet against you? That's what the "spread" is for. So, let's say the spread is (-8). Your betting options are to either bet that the Patriots will win by more than 8, or bet that the Browns will lose by less than 8. This spread fluctuates as bets come in, in order to try and keep even money on both sides of the bet. That way, no matter who wins, Vegas wins, since they take a commission cut from all winning bets.

So, is there an edge to be had in a game against really smart analysts who have a lot of money vested in this, who constantly look for advantages and instantly adjust to match the best information possible? Well, it's incredibly difficult. In fact, many "experts" are well under 50% for the year.

But are these "experts" immune to irrational optimism? I wondered. So, here was my theory, based on a noticed flaw in my own logic. By default, I had been picking the better team, even before I saw the spread. And only switched to the underdog if I saw a spread number that convinced me to change. But, like Ariely mentioned, it's always easier NOT to do something. So if even a slight majority were doing what I had been doing, there might be an irrationally high number on the 'better' team.

That's the theory I came up with 5 weeks ago. So to rectify this irrationality, for the last five weeks, I've been picking the worse team by default. Then, only switching my pick if the spread convinces me to do so. Since then, I'm first in my 20-team league.

Might I be confusing correlation for causation? Perhaps. I'm only 5 weeks in to the theory.

But, at least I'm not gambling anymore. I'm no longer trying to get lucky. I'm simply betting on human irrationality.

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