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Indiana Jones vs. Goliath

2 Jan

uNDERDOGV

“…the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong…”
Ecclesiastes 9:11
Last September when the Floyd Central football team unexpectedly defeated Jeffersonville High, the News Tribune quoted Floyd running back Gaige Klingsmith as saying, “This was a huge win, and everybody was doubting us. We were the underdogs and came through.” Just the other night my wife Diane and I were watching a Scottish television show about how a group of misfit underdogs managed to defeated their powerful arch-rivals in the traditional Scottish game of shinty (a cousin to racquetball). Whether it’s sports, politics, or international conflicts, people are always attracted by the idea of a winning underdog. From the Old Testament’s David and Goliath to the Hunger Games’ Katniss, the successful underdog is an archetype that is familiar to all of us. In fairy tales we have Cinderella and in sports we have James J. Braddock the “Cinderella Man” who defeated heavily favored Max Baer for the world’s heavyweight boxing championship in 1935. What else, besides a preference for underdogs, could account for all those Chicago Cubs fans.
Many of us identify with the underdog automatically. This may be because there are so many more underdogs than top dogs. In most endeavors, there is only one top dog, while there are many underdogs. To paraphrase Lincoln, God must have really love underdogs, since he made so many of them.
A few years ago University of South Florida psychologist Joseph Vandello, conducted several studies about people’s preferences for underdogs. In one study participants first read an essay about the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Afterwards, half of the group was presented with a map showing Palestine as an area smaller than Israel, while the other half was given a map which was altered to show Israel as being smaller in size. When asked who they sided with, all participants chose the side that had the smaller map representation. Delving a bit deeper into the issue, Vandello also found that most people believed that underdogs worked harder than favorites. People naturally seemed to like for someone to defy the odds.
New York Times writer Steven Kotler suggest that we are attracted to underdogs due to that most American of values— “infinite possibility”. We like to believe that in America any one can grow up to be president and it encourages a sense of hope in our own lives.
Aside from our respect for hard work and the sense of hope they engender, the underdog’s appeal might be rooted in something even more basic. According to Los Angeles Times science writer Geoffrey Mohan, our brains may be actually hard wired to identify with the underdog. He cites a Japanese’ study, in which 10 month old infants watched an animated video of a yellow square (the underdog) being pursued by a bullying blue circle. The ball bumps the square seven times and then smashes it completely. The researcher found that 16 of the 20 infants tested reached out for the underdog yellow square.
In his most recent book, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, Malcolm Gladwell, a writer at the New Yorker magazine, examined the underdog phenomena in the light of modern social science. Gladwell first considerers the biblical story of David and Goliath, analyzing it from a novel perspective. He maintains that in ancient times, armies had three types of troops— infantry, cavalry, and projectilists (slingers and archers). Each group had its strengths and weakness. For example, infantry required close quarters fighting in order to be effective, while cavalry moved too fast to be accurately targeted by projectiles. The slinger was a feared and respected warrior, not just a youth with a slingshot, as we often think of the shepherd boy David. When the Philistines proposed one-on-one combat to settle their dispute with Israel they had an infantry vs. infantry confrontation in mind. David, however, turned the tables, as he felt no obligation to play by those arbitrary rules. Gladwell cites one historian who said that Goliath had as much chance against David as any Bronze Age warrior with a sword, would have against an opponent armed with a .45 automatic pistol. In contemporary vernacular it seems that without realizing it, Goliath had taken a knife to a gunfight.
Diane says that it’s like that scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark when the crowd parts and the huge swordsman steps forward expertly handling a massive blade. Like David, Steven Spielberg changes the paradigm and instead of giving us the arduous close quarters fight we expected, he has the exhausted Indiana Jones simply pull out his pistol and readily dispatch the scary and troublesome fellow. We didn’t expect it, but we loved it.
Changing the paradigm is the primary weapon in the underdog’s arsenal. Gladwell also refers to the work of Harvard political scientist Ivan Arreguín-Toft. In 2001 Arreguín-Toft published an article in the journal International Security entitled; How the Weak Win Wars: A Theory of Asymmetric Conflict. This work analyzes how underdogs can and often do win.
According to Arreguín-Toft’s analysis of international conflicts over the past two hundred years, the stronger side typically wins about 70% of the time. When the underdog, however, doesn’t play by traditional rules and adopts guerrilla or other unconventional tactics, this weaker side wins almost 64% of the time. But even underdogs, find it difficult to abandon tradition. During the American Revolution George Washington, for example, was determined to fight the war using classic European military strategy, despite the colonists’ early success with unconventional tactics. He found them distasteful and it almost cost him the war. Underdogs often win using approaches that the opposition finds “unsportsman like”.
This willingness to be disagreeable is related to the basic personality structure of the successful underdog. For the past 30 years psychologists have refined a theory of personality based on what is called the Five Factor Model. Using factor analysis they identified a set of basic personality traits, known as the Big Five. The Big Five factors are openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. University of Toronto psychologist Jordon Peterson’s research suggests that successful underdogs display high levels of openness and conscientiousness, but low levels of agreeableness. This profile paints a picture of an individual who is open to new ideas, self-disciplined and works very hard, but who is also prone to be uncooperative, antagonistic, and uncomformist— just the sort of person liable to skillfully use a creative and unconventional approach that others might find objectionable.
According the Gladwell, we should all keep in mind that the strong are not necessarily as strong as they think they are. Likewise the weak are not necessarily as weak as they are believed to be. If you find yourself in an underdog position the three things to remember are: (1) work as hard as you possibly can (2) Don’t be bound by convention and be open to new and creative approaches and finally (3) Don’t worry about what other people think. I’m pretty sure that the Philistines booed David when he first pulled out his slingshot.

Originally Published in The Southern Indiana News-Tribune

 

SLING

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The Demise of Maria: The Not So Exquisite Corpse

8 Dec

           

                Contrary to the Broadway tune, “Maria” is not “the most beautiful sound I ever heard.” When I hear  this name,  I form an image of an unsightly and  ill-tempered Chihuahua with multiple shiny patches of fur.  Raised on expresso and sugar doughnuts,   Maria was jumpy, nippy and exceedingly fat. Her black shiny piggy eyes bulged from a nervous mound of tan flab—  like a canine Brando.

            Maria belonged to our friends Johnnie and Julie Green.  My wife, Diane and I would often visit them up North  to play whist.  They indulged this unseemly dog like a favored child. While we played cards,  Julie held the mongrel on her lap   removing its many fleas. Her technique  was to   dab  the flea with Vasoline Petroleum Jelly,   pinch it off, and  deposit it in an ashtray.  This unwholesome and possibly intentional distraction  hampered our card playing and made us wonder why we  were so pathetic that we had gone over there in the first place. Johnnie always kept score,  writing down “Champs” for  their score and “Chumps” for  ours. They were card sharks and as they put it we were (s)not.

            At the time, we  drove a slightly used silver,  AMC Concord — the deluxe edition with a plush maroon interior and plastic wood grain dashboard. The car was lousy but  its worst feature was a perpetual motor oil hemorrhage. This oil leak was the source of constant embarrassment  as it ruined our driveway and stained  parking lots throughout town.            

             Whenever we visited  Johnnie and Julie, I’d parked the car on the grass to avoid staining their driveway and to be spared a lecture on proper auto maintenance by Johnnie. Maria  was  in the front yard when  we arrived one evening. She welcomed us with a loud bark and vicious snap and then dashed under our car. Then Julie came running  out of the house calling  for her. Suddenly Maria dashed out from under the car yelping. “Gee whiz, what’s   this black stuff on her back? ” Julie asked Johnnie.  Smirking Diane and  I dummied up,  knowing full well that the little monster had just been anointed with some  really hot motor oil whilst loitering under the Concord. Feeling perkier,  Diane  kept score that night  writing down “Starwarriors” for us  and “Gangreens” for them. They were not amused.

            We all tired of cards and Johnnie suggested that it would be very healthful if we took a  long walk. Johnnie and Julie loved to lecture us on health and especially diet, as Judy took great pride  in her nearly  anorexic physique.  Despite our  objections they insisted on bringing Maria along,  but refused to put her on a  leash.  Maria constantly ran ahead or straggled behind while Judy frantically screamed for her in a shrill voice.  As we walked down the dark road  this  shrieking was  beginning  to unnerve Diane. “Don’t worry about that damn dog. She’ll be all right.”

Suddenly we heard the crescendoing  roar of an engine as a sinister-looking black sedan came barreling down the road, drawing a bead on the unsightly dog. It looked like a demon car from some  Stephen King novel. It must have been going ninety and Maria was frozen in its highbeams, looking like a fat brown piglet in a centerstage spotlight.  The car from hell never slowed and with a blunted “thwunk” Maria was thrown  three feet in the air into dog heaven.  In shock,  Johnnie and I  retrieved our car and a Maria-sized  cardboard  box, while Diane and Julie waited beside the chubby still warm corpse.

            When we got back to the house, Johnnie  and Julie asked us if they should wake up their kids and tell them about Maria. We said, “No, absolutely not!” But they went ahead and did it anyway. Then they asked if  they should call  Julie’s elderly mother and father who were the dog’s godparents. Again, we said, “No! Absolutely not. But they went ahead and did it anyway.

            Within minutes the whole house was thrown into high hysteria.  Johnnie, Julie,  her mother, and the kids were all hugging and crying, while Judy’s father described the elaborate wooden coffin he intended to built for the late great Marie, who by now had stiffened up considerably and had an eternal snarl frozen on her muzzle. Tommy had her laying in state in the garage ironically on top of a  box of Quaker State Motor Oil.

            Diane and I tried  to appear supportive but when we saw an opening we grabbed our  kids, expressed our regrets, and headed for Daylight.  Feeling slightly guilty but immensely relieved in the tranquility of the incontinentConcord, off we went.  It was the last time we ever played whist.   

My apologies to all Chihuahua lovers everwhere, I look forward to your constructive comments and suggestions.

 

My Picks for the Scariest Halloween Movies in the World

25 Oct

Real life is full of real  scary things, like layoffs, newly discovered lumps, registered letters, or grown-up children threatening to come back home.   While we hope to avoid these things, Halloween is a time when people consciously seek out scary experiences as a form of entertainment.                

             If you’re the sort of person who wants to be scared this year, below are my recommendations for the scariest Halloween movies ever.

  1. Psycho: Somehow I saw this Hitchcock movie, accidently when I was about 10 years old.  It’s a good thing we didn’t  have a shower at the time  or I would have been stinky until high school.
  2. The Exorcist: I read the book first and it gave me nightmares. When the little girl’s head spun completely  around in the movie,  I almost displayed what they call in the Haunted  House trade a loss of “yellow control”.
  3. IT: Pennywise, the demonic clown played by Tim Curry, is the scariest character ever.  I still don’t look down storm drains, because he  just might be there, looking up.   
  4. The Amityville Horror: After watching the begining of this movie, Diane and I actually walked out of the  theater , so we could rush home and check on our children.  
  5. The Pet Sematary: I started this book,  but  never finished it. When I got to the point in the book where the little boy gets run over by a speeding transport truck, I threw the book against the wall and never read another word. A friend at work, who had read the whole thing, asked me, “Haven’t these people ever heard of a fence?”
  6. The Shining:  Who can forget Jack Nicholson bursting through the door, screaming  “Heeere’s Johnny”.
  7. Alien: I could never get past the scene where the alien creature bursts from John Hurt’s  chest.
  8. Jaws: My popcorn went all over the theater,  when  they found the corpse in the  sunken boat. I still  swear that they flashed a picture of a shark in that scene,  right before they showed the body.  
  9. Frankenstein: When I was a kid my older brother Norman insisted on watching all of these old Universal horror movies on a local Friday night television show called Spook Spectacular. I was terrified.        
  10. The Turn of the Screw: I never really understood the book,  nor the film version, called The Innocents, until it was    explained to me. Now I think the ghosts were real and it’s very creepy.

     Finally if you prefer something a little more current you might try the  Paranormal Activity 3, The Grunge, or The Ring.  Happy Halloween!

It is interesting that all the villians have the “square mouth” expression that psychologist Paul Ekman indentified  as signalling  unbridled rage as in the illustration below.  

 

Lucky Ducks

20 Sep

Lately I‘ve  been thinking a lot about luck.  In these uncertain times, its tempting to think that maybe there is something you can do to  get a little edge.  My father was an usually practical man, but he  could be superstitious, especially when it came to  luck.  Growing up during the depression I don’t think he  want to take any unnecessary  chances.   He was known to carry  a  buckeye in his pocket for  luck, he refused to eat anything that that scratched the ground on New Year’s Day, and he even nailed a horseshoe  over the doorway to the  garage (pointing  upwards, of course, so  the luck wouldn’t dribble out). Despite his best efforts the only thing lucky in our family was the brand of cigarettes my mother smoked.

 I always assumed that luck was sort of randomly distributed, but it seems like it is more like other characteristics, with some people  at each extreme and most of us in the middle. Multi-millionaire Senator  Judd Gregg fromNew Hampshirecould be a poster child for  the lucky ducks.  In  2005 he cashed in a Powerball ticket worth $853,000.   To add a bit of irony,  his good luck occurred right after voting  against raising the minimum wage and  increasing subsidies  to help  poor people pay their heating bills.

Our son had a Norwegian friend who also lived  a charmed existence.  He had Aryan superiority written all over him.  Slot machines are everywhere inNorwayand this fellow couldn’t  pass one by with out playing and winning.

On the other side of the spectrum are people like  outdoors writer Patrick Mc Manus who insists  that he is so unlucky, when it comes to hunting and fishing, that his bad fortune rubs off on others. I guess there is nothing  very new about hexes,   jinxes,  and Jonahs.  They even made a movie about it.  William Macy  starred in a  2003 film entitled The Cooler, in which a  casino boss hires an  extremely unlucky man to hang around so that his  presence will break  other players good luck streaks.

Of course, the big question is  whether we make our own luck or is really just random. Branch Rickey, manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, once said, “Luck is the residue of design”.

English psychologist Richard Wiseman  from  the Universityof Hertfordshireand   author of   The Luck Factor,   has conducted a series of experiments comparing people who see themselves as lucky  and those who don’t.

In one  study he asked his subjects to follow a set path  across town to meet him at  a particular coffee shop.   Secretly he had  placed  20-pound notes along the pathway. He found that the  lucky subjects  were much more likely to notice the money and collect it along the way. Unlucky subjects were oblivious to the opportunities along the path.  When the subjects arrived at the  destination,   four people were waiting.One    was a very successful entrepreneur .  

The lucky subjects were  attracted to the rich entrepreneur and even engaged him in conversation. When  all  the subjects were   asked how the day went,  the unlucky ones said  nothing special  happened. The lucky subjects saw the day as very lucky and mentioned  finding the  money and talking to a person who might offer some business opportunities.

Not only were lucky people more  observant,  they also had their radar especially attuned to potential opportunities. Overall they were more open to the possibility  of   positive experiences.

 In another study  Wiseman asked  lucky and unlucky people to look through a newspaper to determine how many photographs it contained.  Unlucky subjects took about  two minutes to count  the photographs, but  lucky people averaged only a few seconds.  On the  second newspaper page was a  message printed in two inch letters which said  “Stop counting – There are 43 photographs in this newspaper.”   Invariably unlucky subjects overlooked  it, while the lucky subjects easily  spotted it.  Such opportunities for good luck may be  constantly staring all of us  in the face,  but  we are  too inattentive to recognize them.

Wiseman  posited   that unlucky people are generally more anxious, which supports  research that suggests  anxiety interferes with the ability to notice the unexpected.

Lucky people also engage  their environment more actively,  thereby increasing the possibility of positive outcomes. Unlucky people  are more  passive,  as if they expect a hostile reception to any overtures they might make.       

  Wiseman concluded  that people could be taught to be luckier and devised what he called LuckSchool. InLuckSchool people practice exercises that encourage them to think and behave like  lucky people.  Wiseman  found that about 80% of his graduates said that they felt luckier and more satisfied with their lives.   

The curriculum was based on four principles. First, lucky people believe that the future holds  good fortune for them. This  becomes   self-fulfilling  and helps them persevere  in difficult times. Psychologists believe that optimism is the major factor underlying luck.  

Second, lucky people are very good at  recognizing and talking advantage of  unexpected opportunities. Being relaxed  helps them do this.

Third,  they  trust their instincts in making decisions and they focus  exclusively on the issue under consideration. If your intuition is consistently wrong,  then maybe you should do the exact opposite,  like George Constanza did on a  Seinfeld episode.  

Finally, lucky people have superior coping skills that help  them weather  adversity. In fact they seem to thrive on it.

People may also do things that diminish their luck.  Unlucky  actions are not only foolish things, like walking down a dark alley with  100 dollar bills  hanging out of  your  pocket, but also more subtle  behaviors  like   walking around aimlessly looking vulnerable.  

When it comes to certain  crimes, perhaps we occasionally make our own bad luck. It has been said you can’t cheat and honest man. In the 1997  film Grosse Pointe Blank , John Cusack stars as  a professional  hit man, who says,  “If I show up at your door, chances are you did something to bring me there.”  But we should also be careful about  blaming  innocent victims and turning into Job’s comforters, who wrongly assumed Job did something wrong to merit his misfortune.

In tough times perhaps  we can all improve our  luck  a little by being more mindful of opportunities.  As for  the existence of luck?  French poet Jean Cocteau said,   “We must believe in luck. For how else can we explain the success of those we don’t like?

Take A Number

18 Aug

 

            Everyone knows that Americans hate to stand in line. It’s contrary to the basic American values of independence and self-determination.  While standing in line may not threaten life, it certain threatens liberty and the pursuit of happiness. With the  possible exception of a couple of guys waiting for some Grateful Dead tickets, I have never seen anyone pursue happiness while waiting in a line. Lines are communistic eastern bloc phenomena. It’s what you expect to see inWarsaw–long lines of people waiting to buy toilet paper with splintery chunks of wood embedded in it.

            American’s greatest inventions were  devised  specifically to decreased  the  time  we  wait in lines. Fast food, the drive-in window, the automated teller,  the bar code scanner, the take-a-number machine, and the illiterate-friendly cash register were all  created to speed things up.  To obtain  a synergistic effect we even combine these advances so that   you  get fast food from a drive-in window while the cashier  uses a scanner and illiterate-friendly cash register.  And you pay with an ATM card. The  service is so fast, you actually go back in time. 

            Some people go a little crazy while waiting in line, a sort of claustrophobic panic.  Typically this occurs  to the person standing in front of you. Then you have  to wait  for an involuntarily commitment or anti-anxiety medication to be administered. Fortunately, in the state ofFlorida, convenience store clerks are granted both commitment and prescription privileges. 

            In an unscientific poll,  people say the five worse lines are:

            1. The bank drive-in window: Each  person in front of you will have a unique banking problem more appropriately resolved at a meeting of the  Federal Reserve  Board than  a drive-in window. I ask you, is it really wise to apply for a home mortgage at the drive-in window?  I usually end up  behind a pickup truck full of sinister looking guys who speak some unknown  language and  are trying to cash a third party  counter check from the First National Bank of  Croatia. Or I get behind someone who seems mystified by the pneumatic tube device and is unable to grasp the meaning of the flashing red light that says,  “Press for return”.

            2. The grocery store line  is   my favorite. At least you get to look at the tic tacs and  tabloids  catching up on the national and sometimes interplanetary news. “Hmm, JFK and Elvis seen having breakfast together at the International House of Pancakes, while UFO  squadron hovers overhead.”  Those UFO’s were probably just Elvis’s Belgian waffles. They also have these little bitty booklets with weird titles like: “Teach Your Cat to Invest in the Stock Market”, “Biblical Cures for Hemorrhoids”, and “One Hundred and One  Uses  for Apple  Cider Vinegar”. I think they  have these  books on word processors and they occasionally use  the  “find and substitute” command to reprint new versions. For example  the “One Hundred and One  Uses for Apple  Cider Vinegar” book is exactly the same as  the “One Hundred and One  Uses for Baking Soda” book. Evidently you  can brush your teeth, clean your coffeepot, or clear up your prickly heat with either substance.

             I  also like to watch the territorial disputes erupt on the conveyor belt. UN peacekeepers couldn’t secure these borders. People freak out when  Charmin bathroom tissue makes an incursion into their territorial space. And the cashiers  get a kick out of stopping the conveyor belt abruptly so that your 2 liter coke bottles are hurled across the  plastic divider  into someone else’s space.

            Finally there’s the interminable fresh produce transaction. “What are these,  pears?  Bosco,Bartlett, or Hemlock? Are these pole or wax beans?  Is this a turnip or a  parsnip? Is this a banana or a planaria? Finally it’s your turn and you hear the two most consoling words in the English language– “Paper or plastic?”

            3. The vehicle tag office and it’s kissing cousin the driver’s license bureau are thankfully being replaced by mail renewals.  But for those idiots like me who wait to the last possible second, this line  is a nightmare. I  go early but there’s always a line. It’s interesting to watch the employees totally ignore you as they  wait that final  five seconds before they open  the door. It seems that man was created  for the bureaucracy. The usual catch in this line is some crucial bit of information  you’re missing:  like your insurance policy number, your spouse’s driver’s license number, your vehicles’s mileage in 1987,  or the serial number of  the first car  you  ever drove. They also register motorcycles,  boats,  hunting vehicles, trailers, and  RV’s in this office so be careful.  Never get behind a guy wearing a sweaty camouflage baseball cap. You’d be amazed  how many bass boats, hummers,  and  dirt bikes one person can own. I once made the mistake of standing behind a guy with nautical headgear and had to wait for him to register the entire Mrs. Paul’s trawler fleet.

            4. The hospital emergency room is possibly the most tense of all lines. You’re  in pain, you’re worried about your insurance coverage, unspeakable things are occurring behind the curtains, and the place smells like a pine tree dipped in alcohol. I once went into an emergency room with an abscessed tooth and was in the most excruciating pain of my life. I looked at those feverish infants and afflicted geriatrics waiting in front of me and was quite prepared to flatten them if necessary to get in. As far  as I was concerned  this was festival seating of the fittest and if Mother Teresa got in front of me, she was going to have Reebok tracks on her face.

            5. Waiting lines at fast food restaurants  are somewhat  paradoxical.  Actually the term “fast food restaurant”  is an oxymoron. The pubescent work force takes the brunt of the criticism in this industry. I almost witnessed a full fledged riot once in a fast food line when a brand new employee  (excuse me, associate) was assigned to the cash register, thirty minutes before the annual town Christmas parade. The place was packed and people were real antsy. After she goofed up one order after another, the crowd got ugly and this associate was in real danger of being pulled from behind the register, blanched in the deep fryer, and covered with sweet and sour sauce. Since they pay these kids in Clearasil,  you really can’t  say much.

            If you disagree with my survey results all I can say is, “Hey buddy, take a number!”

Stuck on Mary Lou

17 Aug

             Over the past couple of days, every once in a while,   music from the song “Time after Time”,  spontaneously  starts playing in my head. It is like having a pilot light constantly flickering in your brain while you just wait  for it to flare up. Except for the Goonies and Girls Just Want to Have Fun, I was never much of a  Cyndi Lauper fan, so  I only   know  two lines from this song but they keep repeating themselves.

            My wife Diane seems especially susceptible to the works of Ricky Nelson.  Whenever she plays Ricky Nelson songs as the background music at the bookstore she manages, she gets stuck on “Hello Mary Lou” for days.  At least it’s not “Garden Party”.  

            Neuroscientists call this phenomena an “earworm”, which  is the literal translation of the German term, Ohrwurm, which simply means a song that gets stuck in your head. Over 98%  of Americans  report  having this experience. One-third of respondents in a international survey said  they have earworms every day and  90% said they occur  at least  once a week.   

            As early as 1876,  Mark Twain wrote a  tongue-in-cheek article for the Atlantic Monthly,  in which he claims he acquired  an earworm from a newspaper jingle. Some of the addictive verses from the jingle were:   

                                    “Conductor, when you receive a fare,
                                    Punch in the presence of the passenjare.

                                    Punch, brothers!  Punch with care!
                                    Punch in the presence of the passenjare.”

This  jingle   drove  Twain crazy,  until he jokingly describes how he passed it on to an unfortunate acquaintance. It is a good thing he died 54 years before Walt Disney  opened his   “It’s a Small World” attraction—  Twain would have never survived it.   

            In 1997 humorist  Dave Barry wrote the “Book of Bad Songs”, which summarizes his  survey of the world’s worst songs.  Barry contends that bad song lyrics and  jingles for products that no longer exist, are the two things that we are most likely to remember,  while our ATM passwords and the names of our children are assigned relatively  low priority by our perverse memory.   Barry warns that his book might even “put bad songs into your head”. He suggests that the book  is best deployed as a  psychological weapon  and given to enemies.

        I believe that I once had the winner of Barry’s worse song survey,MacArthurPark, stuck in my head for a week. I distinctly remember humming about a cake left out in the rain and how long it took to bake it.

            Earworm songs are always familiar to the victim and usually are not   perceived as a significant problem.  However,  in a 2005 survey 7.5%  of people did  report  having their least favorite song stuck in their head on occasion. In this more recent study, Billy Ray Cyrus’s “Achy Breaky Heart ” replacedMacArthurParkas the most despised song.

            Most of the time earworms end within a day or so, but they are thought to be more difficult to suppress by people  who are most into  music.  Women and men experience earworms with about the same frequency, but they seem to last a little longer for women.   Usually the songs are a catchy tune  that you may have liked at some point in the past, but they may become highly annoying from the sheer repetition. They especially seem to appear when people are alone and bored.   

            Earworms are a type of intrusive involuntary imagery, which can include spontaneous   pictures, smells, and tastes.  Auditory intrusions, however,  seem to be more common than those from other sensory modalities. Some scientists believe that earworms may be a mild form of auditory hallucinations. Others think they may be the normal side effect of the memory consolidation process. Famous neurologist Oliver Sacks theorizes that they may just be the natural consequence of having our brains  constantly  bombarded by music.

            James Kellaris, a marketing professor  at theUniversityofCincinnati, has extensively studied earworms  and views  them as   a “cognitive itch.”   Kellaris, believes that certain music has  unusual qualities, such as repetitiveness, simplicity, or unexpectedness,  that hook  the brain’s attention. The brain tries to process this irritating stimulation by repeating it, which only makes matters worse–  like scratching an insect bite. However, since virtually any song may be an earworm for some people,  Kellaris now believes that the phenomenon probably results from an interaction of song properties and individual traits.

            Kellaris conducted a 2003 survey to determine his own  earworm “Playlist From Hell” and he  included commercial jingles, as well as songs. After idiosyncratic earworms,  the  most common ones cited were:  1. Chili’s (Baby Back Ribs), 2. Who Let the Dogs Out?,  3. We Will Rock You, 4. Kit-Kat bar jingle (Gimme a break), 5. TheMission Impossible Theme, 6. YMCA,  7. Whomp, There It Is, 8. The Lion Sleeps Tonight, and  9. It’s a Small World After All.

            People have adopted a variety of different techniques to eliminate or suppress earworms including; substituting a new tune,  passing it on,  distraction,  listening to the earworm, discussing it, or simply  waiting for it to pass. I looked up the lyrics to “Time After Time” and was surprised to find that the verses I was hearing in my head weren’t exactly the same as the actual song. I also listened to the song, but it didn’t go away, although the lyrics mysteriously corrected themselves. Some people believe that the more attention you give to an earworm, the more resistant it is to leaving.

            Kellaris’ website says that there is a common myth that some tunes (like the Flintstones’  Theme) can serve as an “eraser  song” that can eliminate earworms. It may distract the individual, but there is no evidence of any true “eraser effect”. And there is even the danger the eraser song will become a brand new earworm, itself.  

            I don’t believe learning about earworms has helped me at all, but  “Time After Time” has finally  faded from my brain. I am not sure how I did it,   but  something, (from the, town ofBedrock),  is now telling me that, “I’ll never have that recipe again, oh nooo!”         

It Just Slippered My Mind

9 Jun

                    The other day when I got out of the car going into  Barnes & Noble’s   I was appalled  to see that I was wearing a slipper on one  foot and a shoe on the other. I immediately thought of the All in the Family episode in which Archie Bunker told the   story of how he was so poor as a child that he had to wear one old boot and one worn shoe to school.   All the other kids teased him–  calling him Shoebooty.  There I was– Slipshoey.

                    For me just thinking about something has become the  equivalent of doing it. When I think about something I plan to do,  it seems as if I already did it and my thoughts get stored like a real memory. 

                  Evidently I was distracted while changing shoes.  I was only glad that  none of our   children were around to witness this, since it would have been conclusive proof that I had completely  lost my mind, as they have long suspected.  Wearing one slipper in public would be the final nail in  the coffin of my credibility.

                  When they were little they would ask me all sorts of  questions and considered me the fount of all knowledge and wisdom.   Now they regard me as completely clueless and  ignore any of  my advice,  while completely subscribing to any claptrap they find on the internet or hear from one of their peers. Even when they think I might actually  know something, they say,  “Just leave your expertise at the door.” I know this arrogance of youth  helps them establish  an independent  identity, but they still seem a little too eager to abandon me on some ice floe.

              When I noticed the two different shoes, I considered staying  in  the car, but I really wanted to look at   books, so I told my wife, Diane that  I was going to pretend that I had a sprained ankle.  I limped around Barnes & Nobles, taking pains to never look  at my shoes and  occasionally giving a subtle grimace.  I am fairly proficient at limping. I learned to do this convincingly at  high school football practice, just in case our coach was in one of his frequent  foul moods and was looking for someone to take a an extra lap.  

           Having one dark brown slipper and one light brown shoe was like wearing two different colored socks.  When comedian Steven Wright was asked why his socks didn’t match,   he said they did,  because  he went by  thickness instead of color.   

            Such faux pas  are  pretty common for me.  Like the time in high school I discovered the macho green beret I was wearing came from my sister’s old Girl Scout uniform or a few years ago  when I went to an important meeting wearing my sweater inside out. I may not be  Einstein, but I  do occasionally dress like him.

             Regarding embarrassing shoe mishaps, back in the days when we were young and poor,  we attended a church where you had to kneel  at the altar railing during communion. In this position  the rest of the congregation  could get a good gander at the bottom  of your shoes. It seemed like  this  would always happen on the Sundays when I was wearing my only pair of dress shoes— ones  that had a noticeable hole. Evidently all was not well with my sole. I would be anxious during the whole service and  tried, without  success,  to edge out a couple of old ladies,  so I could get to the side railing to decrease my potential audience.

            I suppose I do need to pay more attention to things.  Just the other day I  lost my wallet, again. This usually happens just as we are about to go out the door. Then I wish I was able to call my wallet,  like I do my cell phone,   when I misplace it. After the usual five minute of  hysteria, I finally found it–  in the washing machine. Our kitchen table is still cluttered  with ID cards, dollar bills, scraps of paper, and unreadable debit card receipts that are drying out.  

                Diane (Miss Perfect) is always warning me to check my pockets. I graciously  do not mention the numerous occasions she has left her purse somewhere,  or the time  it was mailed back to us in a bright red and white three-piece box, from a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant  inSpringfield,Illinois. Everything was intact. Miss Perfect certainly lives a charmed existence at times.

             I’ve been thinking  about the Barnes and Noble fiasco and maybe I should just give up and wear some of those bright yellow Crocks®  all the time.