1st and Ten: The Weekly Tendown, June 6-12 2010

Sunday, June 13, 2010

 Dear Internet:

Do you know the bystander effect?

Excellent.  Here's Tendown 30.

First:  The Circle K Fallacy

Okay, so the bystander effect is the sociological phenomenon which says that we get our behavioral cues from those around us - and because of that, in situations which require fairly quick action, we are less likely to do anything at all the more we are surrounded by others.  Like this - I've seen these experiments; students are in an enclosed room filling out applications when smoke begins to come from underneath the door; not so much smoke that it's the end of the world, but enough that it's noticeable.  When a student is by himself, he leaves the room to go get help.  But when there are a group of students, they just sit there, frozen, because they're all waiting for someone else to act.  If you ever need help, like you're being attacked or you've got chicken lodged in your windpipe, you're better off having it happen in front of one person than in front of 20. 

I've added a corollary to that - the Circle K Fallacy.

The Circle K fallacy is that we overestimate the correlation between popularity and merit to such an extent that it inhibits our ability to make qualitative decisions.

Like this.

There's a Circle K near my house, it has one gasoline pump out front.  No one is ever there.  Literally, I've never once seen anyone pumping gas there who wasn't me.

It's next to a gas station and across the street from a gas station.  Larger, dozens of pumps, full on gas stations that are almost always completely full.  I live in an urban, high traffic area. 

The price of the gas is always almost to the penny the same.  The Circle K, at the very most, might be a penny or two more.  At the most.

But no one goes there.  People are more inclined to wait for a pump at the station next to it then go to the Circle K.

I did that myself, once, maybe twice.  One day as I was pumping gas and looking at the empty Circle K, I thought how odd my own decision making was - and I realized that it wasn't that I had coolly reflected upon the various merits of the gas stations and made a critical decision to choose the Chevron - it was instead that something about the Circle K just struck me wrong, wrong in a fleeting but still real way, and in a split second "do I turn here or here" choice, a choice made almost preconsciously - I went with the Chevron.

And in getting to that thought, it wasn't long before it became evident that why the Circle K seemed "off" is because there was no one there.  And my brain clearly processed "no one at that gas station is weird, given the circumstance, therefore, there must be something wrong with that gas station."

How many people, do you suppose, went through that same decision making process?  Choosing the gas station where all the people were, even if there was no reason to believe the popular gas station was any better.  Over and over it repeats.  One business succeeds, one fails.  It's like how tip jars are never empty (or shouldn't be) - they put some money in a tip jar so the customers will get the cue that the right thing to do is to tip.  Hey, other people are tipping, says the subconscious mind, I can tip too. 

The only reason I wasn't going to the Circle K was because no one else was going there. 

And now I go to the Circle K.  I'm always the only guy at the pump.

So, having had that thought - I asked if there were places (other than the tipping thing) where the fallacy was replicated.

Men - let me ask you a question.

Have you had this experience - the time when you are clearly of most interest to women is when you are already in a relationship.

Circle K fallacy.

If there's a guy without a girlfriend, who isn't dating, women are likely to think "well, something must be wrong with him - if he was valuable, he'd have someone."  Even if that thought isn't fully formed - it's there - 'cause there's a vacant pump, no reason to think it's defective, but they'd rather wait in line at the Chevron.

But the second you get a girlfriend, are in a relationship, are openly and notoriously in a relationship - suddenly women are driving up and asking for 20 dollars of premium unleaded. 

I'm almost 40 years old, I've been dating for almost a quarter of a century - and it's been my life without fail; long stretches of singleness during which there was barely a date to be found - and then, as soon as I coupled up - women who previously showed no interest are hitting on me brazenly.

(Note - this will seem like it's just cover because I'm trying to avoid the following conversation from my Lady Type Friend "who is she, who is this person you were writing about, I have lots of other options myself, Mister, don't think I can't get on Facebook in eleven seconds and have a swarm of gas stations who will stay open all night just for me" but this is entirely past tense in my life; when you hit middle age and work 7 days a week, there's not a lot of women pressing their phone numbers into your palm; I'm sure there are guys my age who can carry on affairs, but Jesus, who has the energy?)

I'd assume that, to an extent, it works in the opposite way - you know that trope where there's the sort of plain girl next door with the glasses and the frumpy clothes who is totally in love with the guy and who the guy obviously should be with why can't he just see how perfect she really is for him?  If she gets a boyfriend, then he'll notice.  Why?  Circle K fallacy. 

No one goes to that restaurant, it must not be any good.  Someone else is paying a hundred grand for a wedding, that must be the right amount.  None of the major politicians supports a dramatic increase in the top marginal tax rate in order to raise revenue, therefore, it must not be an idea worth discussing. 

Circle K fallacy.

We take our social cues from others.  Not only during crisis, but at the marketplace.  The marketplace of goods, the marketplace of people, the marketplace of ideas.  If no one else is there, there must be a good reason.

After the jump, the rest of the Tendown

1. Our Keys and Documents Are Here With Us In Nigeria

Monday, my Lady Type Friend and I will be signing a lease to move in together. 

This is a good thing.  'Cause it's been over 90 degrees in my no longer air conditioned home every day for a month, and I'm miserable.

It's also good because we've been looking at houses for 2 1/2 months and there was a bit of a death march to all of it.  There was the house with both a toilet and gigantic jar of pickles in the yard; the house with the half dozen crated dogs; the house without a handle on the door to the backyard; the house who advertised a half bath which meant a working toilet sitting totally exposed in the laundry room; the house that was perfect but they accepted no dogs; the house that was perfect but they accepted no cats; the house that was perfect but they took an identical earlier offer; the house that was perfect, and our offer matched their advertised price - but then (after five days of asking for, and receiving, personal letters of reference) they raised their asking price 300 bucks a month. 

And then there was this, a scam which we found on more than one occasion.

Our realtor sends us the MLS of a house.  Let's say it's 1300 dollars a month. 

Then, on craigslist - the identical house:


Beautiful and ready to go. Centrally located, move in condition. Come see this 3/2 with a lake view and large screened in porch. Nicely updated with lots of space and a huge 3rd bedroom.

But it's listed for 700 dollars a month.


There's an email address on the craigslist ad - it's the name of the owner, which we know because it's in the MLS listing.  It's for a free email service like gmail or yahoo or hotmail.  Not only is the email address the name of the correct owner - but then the address includes something, like the letters for a school for example, say FSU.  Say it's (note, I just made up that address).  A little google search of the owner, let's say Bob Thompson, shows that a Bob Thompson who may well, given that he lives down here, be the owner of that property and he went to school at Florida St.

So - looks like the guy, right?  Looks like the owner of the property is taking out a craigslist ad for way under the price that's being sent to us by the realtor.  And if you were to drive by that property - it would be vacant - there's a For Rent sign, there's a box on the door.  No reason to think anything about it.

When you email the craigslist address, you get something like this:

Hello, First of all, I must thank the Lord that I found an intending tenant for my house ,The house is much available for now and its a 3 bedroom home......I want you to know that i am the owner of this building situated at (address redacted) and I Once lived there with my Wife and my only daugther before we relocated to West Africa.My Job here in Nigeria involves going to interior villages to give food and clothes to the less priviledged ones in the Niger delta region and I also use this opportunity to preach the word of God bringing them to the knowledge of the gospel of Christ,We work with the a charity organisation. You can learn more from

The email goes on to explain that they don't have an agent representing them, they'd like to handle to lease through email - and then an application is provided and they ask that a fee be sent.  If the application is accepted, then they want the move in costs to be sent - and in response they'll, of course, mail you the keys.

No, I don't know who is falling for it, no. 

But you get the grift.  It's someone who has access to the MLS listings, someone who recognizes who the owners are enough to create fake free email addresses for them.  Someone who knows when houses are vacant (as the email says that we could drive by the house, but unfortunately not get in to see it before we send the deposit). 

Africa seems like a mistake; you'd assume any user of Craigslist has some sense of the Nigerian prince email scam enough that an absent landlord shouldn't be located in Africa, but all it takes is one person to send some money and the scam pays off. 

Searching for houses was not fun.  Hard on me.  Hard on the Lady Type Friend.  Hard on the relationship and generally no good at all. 

But it's done.  Or will be once I can give my final exams and get to my week off between quarters. 

And hey, free pickles.

2. The Monkey Cage
The ground I most often travel is sports - and one of my memes somewhere approximates the following - that sports media tells stories of heart and courage and momentum and leadership that are not borne out through quantification.  Sports media ignores facts in favor of mythmaking.  When I was a kid in the late 1970s, as popular a figure who existed in American sport was Pete Rose.  He was everything sports media loved - not blessed with great physical skill, but look how fiesty and scrappy he was (white reporters mythmaking about white athletes). 

And even two decades after the gambling scandal that still keeps Rose out of the Hall of Fame, most sportswriters have propped up Rose, intimating that he's been treated unfarily in comparison say, to Barry Bonds (shocking that middle aged white guys dislike cocky black men.  Shocking).  Here's completely untalented hack Rick Reilly, for example.  And here he is again. 

It was one of the first lessons I internalized about sports, reading Bill James in the early 1980s, that the stories we are told about baseball are largely contradicted by a look at the evidence.  Much like my observation about the Circle K almost three decades later, my next step was to inquire if, in fact, there were other areas of life where there was no connection between the facts and what we are asked to accept as true.

The answer was, uh, yeah.  Yeah there are.

Good piece this week in the Columbia Journalism Review about the doctrinal divide between political media and political science.  Our news is about personality - should Obama get mad about the oil leak - does he need to show more leadership - will his lack of emotional connection to much of his constituents lead to a one term Presidency?  It's what popular books about history focus on - leadership, courage, greatness - the same themes that books about sports focus on.

And equally wrong:

But political-science research, while not questioning that a president’s effectiveness matters, suggests that the occupant of the Oval Office is, in many ways, a prisoner of circumstance. His approval ratings—and re-election prospects—rise and fall with the economy. His agenda lives or dies on Capitol Hill. And his ability to move Congress, or the public, with a good speech or a savvy messaging strategy is, while not nonexistent, sharply constrained.

As I've talked about with sports - if the media embraces the quantifiable - leads us to the facts - then what purpose do they serve?  Bill Simmons often complains about baseball - saying it's no fun to talk about it anymore because some numbers guy can so easily prove him false (he says it on the square, as if he's not revealing his own weakness - that's why his thousand page book about basketball is focused on the premise that one can't really quantify great basketball players - that qualities like leaadership and teamwork are the most important elements.  It has to be his premise, because if it's not - you don't buy his book).  News reporters have to sell us narratives of the personal as being more important than the quantifiable, as if the truth is this:
Anchor:  Tell us, Bob, how important was the President's speech today?
Reporter:  Completely irrelevant.  Virtually everything the President does is completely irrelevant. 
...that doesn't give a lot of room for the next broadcast.
I have a degree in history.  Most history is mythmaking; the sports mythmaking about the greatness of Pete Rose pales in comparison to the mythmaking about the founding fathers.  
Ray Allen this week had arguably the greatest half of basketball in NBA finals history - and in the very next game turned in the worst performance in 30 years.  What about momentum?  And heart?  And the steely courage of a veteran?  
Sometimes things just happen in sports.  Sometimes the ball just goes in one night and doesn't the next.  That's just true.  Doesn't make for good poetry.  But it's true.
And sometimes we find Pete Rose's corked bat from the season he broke Ty Cobb's hits record.
Sports media went on a crusade to invalidate Bonds.  As he was breaking the two home run records, the dominant element of the story was "this isn't real, this isn't really happening, do not invest in this."  And so, by and large, sports fans did not.  Sports is a delicate work.  Of course it doesn't matter that a man, any man, hits a baseball - but because we've decided that it does, it does (look at all the other people cheering, I should cheer too - it's the Circle K fallacy).  
The Bonds story, in a way unparalleled in sports history was framed as if it was professional wrestling - was presented to us as phony by a media which decided that was the story to be told.  And because that was the story that was told - it became the only story which could be told.  Nothing will change that.  If ARod breaks the career home run record it will be considered his record, despite his steroid admission.  It will be considered that because that's the story the media will choose to tell.  Or it won't - but either way, we will be captive to that story.
Pete Rose is the Hit King.  And the gambling - and now the corked bat - won't ever change that.   He's Charlie Hustle.  That story's already written.  
3. Fight On.
My Trojans got hit this week.  2 years no postseason, total of 30 scholarships taken away.  It will be a difficult next several years.

My essential thought about college sports is that anyone who thinks Reggie Bush is the only guy getting money from an agent hasn't paid attention to the past 40 years.  In no way do I think USC was any more or less dirty than every other major football program in the country.  Amateurism is for guys who aren't good enough for someone to pay. 

But that doesn't mean we shouldn't have gotten hit.  Because clearly, what drives the multi billion dollar college football business (one in which everyone gets paid but the working class athlete; coaches get paid - I don't hate Pete Carroll for taking a five million dollar salary from USC and then skipping town one step ahead of the posse, I really don't; I want good things for those guys in Seattle except when they play my Niners; and not just coaches, but everyone else - I literally was dumbfounded as the very same day when USC's punishment was the number one sports story, the number two sports story was the beginning of the realignment of college football, with the Pac 10 possibly expanding to 16 teams, extending from Oregon to Texas - the only reason for that, obviously, is money - what it doesn't serve so much are student athletes from the non revenue sports - will a women's soccer team travel from Corevalis to Austin to play a Tuesday Pac 16 conference game?  The Pac 10 and Big 10 are looking to get as big a slice of the TV pie as they can - it's for cash, cash that will go to everyone involved except athletes - and if an athlete gets paid, then we start screaming we are shocked - shocked - to hear that there is cheating in this establishment) is the veneer of amateurism - even though sports fans largely know better, we collectively decide that college football isn't just not as well played NFL football, that it's somehow connected to the academic facilities which house the teams.

The business of college sports depends on that work.  USC broke kayfabe, Reggie Bush was too brazen in the way that he said "I'm not an amateur, look how my security guard parents fly all over the country to watch the games."  It's not that he took money.  Of course he took money.  It's that he took too much money, won too many games, and then tried to get away with stiffing his agent when he made the NFL. 

The work has to be protected.  The story is more important than the truth.  So USC has to take the hit.  I'm a wrestling fan.  I understand the importance of working the marks. 

4. The Best Wrestler in the World.
Sort of a microcosm of my entire life as a WWF fan this week.

Monday night, at the end of a tedious, tedious RAW was a superhot angle in which the developmental group that had been featured on a largely unwatchable television show (NXT) invaded RAW and destroyed all of the ringside personnel, including John Cena (who really is not a good wrestler, honestly). 

Hard to say how that would have turned out; WWE would have needed to follow up by having those guys, all of which are virtually unknown to the WWE audience, actually beat established WWE wrestlers, and so do for a protracted period of time, for the angle to work; and there's no track record of WWE having the ability to do that.  But if they attempted it, the guy at the center of the angle would have needed to be Bryan Danielson - as he's maybe the only one of the invaders capable of having the caliber of match needed to be the glue for the angle (needed might be too strong, the NWO obviously got over without having good matches, but they had star power - this angle has invaders who aren't stars and don't have some type of monstrous undeniable physicality - my sense is good matches might be important - to me, of course, it's all that's important, and there's an element of this angle that was aimed, a little bit, at guys like me).

By the end of the week, it appeared that Danielson was fired.

My first, second, and third inclination was that this was worked.  This kind of work does make sense for the angle.

Particularly given the reason for the firing was Danielson's choking out ring announcer Justin Roberts with his tie as part of the angle.  A choke out which was focused on by WWE cameras.

It's an invasion angle, they're to some extent using Danielson's credibility as a way to get internet buzz for the angle, and a firing of Danielson will really only be noticed by that internet fanbase like me who is significantly more interested in him than in anything else the company could possibly do.

So working a firing makes sense.

Apparently, this is untrue.  In a post-Benoit world, a violent choking runs counter to the kid friendly product favored either by the corporate partners or Linda's Senate campaign.

And - I get it.
My general sense of what WWE is in 2010 more supports the idea that they'd fire their best wrestler at the outset of their best angle because the angle was "too hot" than it supports the idea that they'd be able to pull off an elaborate work that swerves their own employees and the wrestling press.  I'm uncertain why Kevin Dunn doesn't get fired; the story that has emerged is that all of the employees know that post-Benoit, that type of choking is no good (Danielson, as a relatively new employee, perhaps did not know) and it's not really that Danielson choked Roberts that is the issue - right - it's that it was on TV, and that would be a production decision.  Kevin Dunn's not a new employee - Danielson, assuming he did not know the rules, was doing what a wrestler does - but Kevin Dunn, producing a television show, made a conscious choice to cut away to that scene and put it on TV.

And then, I assume, it ran again 3 hours later on the west coast.

Which makes it sound like a work, right?  'Cause guys like me are going to write pieces like this about Bryan Danielson.  And he'll show up at an ROH show and talk about pulling out his johnson and pissing all over this hellhole.

(that reference isn't for everyone, I understand, I'm increasingly only talking to the hardcores now).

Later in the week, they continued the angle at a developmental show in Tampa - an angle just run to put up on youtube - and if WWE has taken the time to run a house show angle in developmental - this is a very non traditional WWE angle - it's an internet angle - and the Danielson firing fits in perfectly with the kind of angle it appears that they are running.

But the Benoit thing...yeah.  It is unlikely they'd want to raise any sort of awareness about Benoit, not now with the election in November.  It's a curious choice to make for a cover story for a work.  So curious that I think it's not.  I think, it's close - but I think it's legit.  If they're working me - good on them - I've got a USC sweatshirt, I like to be worked. 

( I saw a 4 1/4 match this week, the Jackson 3 v. The Future is Now in the Chikara Trios tournament).

5. Speaking of Works

I'm not jingoistic; as far as works go, there aren't too many bigger than nationalism.  Flags, colors, songs, all designed to keep us in line; the graveyards are filled with people who were told to kill and then die for a piece of cloth.

But I root for the US in the World Cup.  It's my only concession to Americanism - the only time when rooting for US doesn't feel like rooting for the Death Star.

Good draw yesterday.  Lucky.  We (we!  U-S-A!  U-S-A!) got outplayed pretty solidly, but we'll take the point, thanks. 

(Desmond Tutu dancing after the South African goal was the high point of the weekend).

6. Clearly, Better Than Sabermetrics
'Member the revelations that Nancy Reagan consulted astrologers for years to help guide her husband's political career (from the files of - if a Democratic President had done it the Republicans would have made sure it was burned into our national consciousness)?  I enjoyed that as a piece of schadenfreude.

But even better was this.  The Dodgers, for years, paid a psychic a six figure salary to send the team positive energy.  It's awesome.  I'm inclined to apologize for the bad things I've said about Brian Sabean; he's largely clueless about how to build a winning baseball team, but, at least our money has gone to old low-OBP guys as opposed to wizards.

7. And, hey, also Good
It's the website for the new Niners stadium.  I'd rather not leave San Francisco either, but some luxury box money couldn't hurt. 

8. Bravolebrities
A good, long piece about the science of becoming a Bravo reality star.

9. This is Why I Failed to Reach My Potential
My parents weren't lesbians.

10. Why Funny Laws Aren't Funny
You know those sites that list the crazy laws still on the books in some states?  "In Wyoming it's illegal to watch hockey on television" that kinda thing?

The problem with those laws is that sometimes they're enforced.

There's a woman, near Buffalo, charged with adultery.

Good to see there's still some American Taliban alive and well in 2010.  Maybe we'll get a good ole' fashioned stoning out of this.  U-S-A!  U-S-A!

That's it for this time.  I'll see you next time - if there is a next time...

Your pal,



Blog said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Blog said...

It's more general than the "Circle K Fallacy". Society continues to become more and more complex, while people are becoming busier and busier. This results in less time to make our own decisions, so more and more we rely on others to make our decisions for us. It's only a matter of time before we end up spending our entire lives on cruise control, as society will become far too complicated for us to even try to think for ourselves, assuming we had any time to do so.

This is why I believe that American style democracy is ultimately doomed to irrelevance and ultimate failure...we'll have no energy to figure out the issues and who is best suited to solve them, so we end up electing people like Alvin Greene because they are the first name that shows up in alphabetical order on the ballot (or maybe they remind us of a singer we used to know?) Eventually we'll become some country like China, that can cut through the crap of dealing with what billions of people "think" and can get on with the business of planning and executing stuff with the few people in the world still capable of doing that.

And, hopefully on fifth inclination, you'll come to realize the Bryan Danielson thing as an elaborate meta-work, that has millions of people analyzing John Cena's tweets to determine if he is sincere about signing a petition to bring Bryan back to WWE. It will be interesting to see how this storyline plays out.

Kirk said...

You forget Dr. Joyce Brothers in "The Lonely Guy," who pointed out (if I remember correctly) that men in relationships have a confidence that men not in relationships do not, and that women generally find a attractive.

Not that I have anything much to offer on the subject. I went 10 years without a girlfriend of more than five months, then had a hot 18-year-old fall into my lap and was married four years later. I still don't understand how any of it works.

Blog said...

On sixth impression, it's real. Dammit.

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