Thinking, fast and slow; or, Nancy Grace and Dan Abrams

fast and slow thinking


 

In his book “Thinking, Fast and Slow,” Daniel Kahneman posits that we humans, as mammals/primates, have two different decision-making systems in our brains. There’s a “fast” system, which does quick evaluations on the basis of likelihood and present evidence, and makes a quick decision. There is also a “slow” system, which takes time and evaluates more carefully.

 

 

 

The “fast” system is useful for emergencies. The “slow” system is useful for – well, just about everything except emergencies.

 

 

 

Sadly, most of us use the “fast” system for everything, which means that – for us – the obvious reason seems always to be the right reason. Even more sadly, we rationalize these “fast” decisions: we take our quickly-drawn conclusions and try to justify them mock-logically.

 

 

Sometimes it works. Sometimes it’s just silly.

 

 

 

Which brings me to Dan Abrams and Nancy Grace.

 

 

 

For whatever reason, ABC’s “Good Morning America” often uses these two as tandem commentators on court cases in the news. Dan is reasoned and careful and takes the law into account. Nancy, on the other hand, always knows immediately who’s to blame and mocks Dan for not following her lead.

 

 

 

See? Dan is slow-thinking. Nancy is fast-thinking.

 

 

 

It’s sickening to watch, sometimes. Dan is reasoning through a case, and Nancy will accuse him of “sitting in his ivory tower.” Obviously (for Nancy), the guiltiest-looking person in the room must be the perpetrator. Right?

 

 

 

No, Nancy. Not right. Lots of innocent people are in jail right now because of thinking like yours.

 

 

 

Nancy used to be a real court prosecutor. Now she’s just an imaginary prosecutor, allowed by ABC to pontificate on cases about which she (and the rest of us) know next to nothing. I’m glad she’s not in the real legal system. She’d do a lot of harm there. I’m sorry, however, that ABC gives her a platform on “Good Morning America” to hold forth on these “he looks guilty, so he must be guilty” views. I’m sure there are viewers who consider her an authority, and think: if Nancy Grace says/believes it, it must be true!

 

 

 

But it ain’t.

 

 

 

She’s a dimwit in love with her own opinions who has forgotten how the law works. She wants opinion to be law.

 

 

 

That’s a creepy thought.

 

 

 

“Good Morning America” really shouldn’t give her this kind of exposure. Except, I’m sure, that she’s good for ratings, because fast-thinking quick-judging viewers like to hear her expound on her ill-judged beliefs, which agree with their own.

 

 

 

(Sigh.)


 

 

For Sunday: Wonder Woman spins, and spins, and spins

wonder woman spin


I think I speak for everyone who loved Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman when I say that we never got tired of watching her spin. She could turn even the most pedestrian outfit into something special.

Here are several dozen spins. Watch the outfits. It’s a whole education in late 1970s / early 1980s fashion.


For Halloween: The Great Pumpkin

great pumpkin


“It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” was one of the first televised Peanuts specials, and one of the best. Here are a few selected scenes dealing with Linus’s misguided belief in the Great Pumpkin (who will only rise from the most sincere pumpkin patch in the world), and Sally’s reaction when she realized that she’s wasted her whole Halloween evening.

“YOU OWE ME RESTITUTION!”


Raymond Burr

Raymond Burr


Raymond Burr was a handsome second-string actor who started his career in the late 1940s. He evolved into a movie villain (as in “Rear Window” ), and then a heroic TV actor (as in “Perry Mason,” and later “Ironside”). He was handsome and broad-shouldered, with a deep gruff voice. He gained weight in the 1950s and 1960s, but it gave him gravity.

Also, he was gay.

He met an actor named Robert Benvenides while working on the “Perry Mason” show. They fell in love, and spent the rest of their lives together. Hollywood couldn’t endure this, of course, so the studios created a fiction about marriages and children. (Raymond was married to a woman for a while, back in the 1940s, but it ended in divorce and no children.)

He was reputed to be very generous. IMDB reports the story that Errol Flynn told him that, if he died with ten dollars in his pocket, he wouldn’t have done his job. It inspired him to be philanthropic, and he always helped his friends.

He died in 1992, and Benvenides was his sole heir, but Raymond’s family contested this. They failed, thank goodness.

How times have changed! Look at George Takei! And Neil Patrick Harris! And Ellen de Generes!

Partner and I have talked about marriage. Sadly, we’d end up paying more income tax married than we would as two “single” people. But our mutual employer, Brown University, regards us as Domestic Partners, so we enjoy some advantages that way. Also, we have not found any local institutions that discriminate against us. Lately (with all my health-related adventures) I simply introduce Partner to my doctors and nurses as “my life partner,” and he’s welcomed immediately.

How easy we have it, and how difficult Raymond Burr and his partner Robert Benvenides had it, only twenty years ago.

The world is moving in the right direction.

Slowly.


For Sunday: A man argues with his own stomach

man arguing with stomach


I thought that, since getting a feeding tube implanted in my stomach, this might be appropriate. This is a very funny Alka-Seltzer commercial from 1967, featuring a man arguing with his own stomach (voiced by a young Gene Wilder), and drawn by the clever R. O. Blechman.

Listen to the rapid angry dialogue, if you can. It’s wonderful. “You always hated my mother!”


George Lois asks: Can you do better?

george lois can you do better


George Lois was a real Madison Avenue adman from the 1950s and 1960s, and after. He wrote a book some years ago called DAMN GOOD ADVICE, which is a combination memoir / self-accolade / idea book.

 

 

It’s a good read, and a funny one. I recommend it.

 

 

(Incidentally: if you watch “Mad Men,” you will be interested to know that George Lois is rumored to be the model for Don Draper, the main character in the series. George, in his book, hotly denies it. “And besides,” he says, “I was more attractive!”, and shows this picture:

 

 

george lois don draper

 

 

(So what do you think of someone who says: “That’s not me! And besides, I was more attractive than that!”? Hmm. I know what I think.)

 

 

Anyway: the book is full of good stories.

 

 

This one nags at me frequently:

 

 

A bigwig goes into a bar and says to the bartender, “Give me the best Manhattan you can make.”

 

 

Bartender does so, and gives it to Bigwig. Bigwig tastes it. “It’s good,” he says. “Can you do better?”

 

 

Bartender tries again. This goes on for several repetitions. Finally, after sampling Manhattan #5 or so, Bigwig says: “This is excellent!”, and then he glares at Bartender. “Why the fuck didn’t you make it like this the first time I asked?”

 

 

I have no answer to that.

 

 

What does “best” mean?

 

 

And why don’t we do it all the time?


 

For Sunday: “You Are My Friend,” sung by Mister Rogers

mister rogers


I think Mister Rogers was a modern saint. His television show – a gentle slowly-paced production, with puppets and people speaking quietly – was distinctly different from all the other children’s television shows of his time.

 

 

Fred Rogers wrote almost all of his own material. This song I still know by heart, and I will sing it at the drop of a hat.

 

 

But Mister Rogers sings it better:

 

 


 

Salty Brine

salty brine


I came to Rhode Island in 1978, so I missed the early career of Salty Brine. He was a radio / TV personality with a deep jolly voice, who hosted a children’s show called “Salty’s Shack.” (He portrayed a sea captain, naturally.) By the time I got to Rhode Island, he was best known for reading the school closures on the radio when it snowed. There’s a small region in northwestern Rhode Island, the Foster/Glocester area (pronounced “Fosta Glosta”), very underpopulated, a bit more elevated than the rest of the state, which gets more snow than the rest of the state; they close school when no one else does.

And Salty would boom: “NO SCHOOL FOSTA GLOSTA!”

And children throughout Rhode Island (even those who didn’t live in the Foster / Glocester school districts) would cheer.

Salty Brine, the children’s host, the radio personality, was inducted into the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame in 1979.

Does that tell you something?

They even named a beach after him: “Salty Brine State Beach,” in Galilee.

We had local celebrities when and where I was growing up. I remember Rusty Nails the clown, who was on Portland television in the 1960s; if you watch “The Simpsons,” you’ll see a version of him as Krusty the Clown (Matt Groening, the creator of the show, grew up in the area at the same time as me).

But I do believe that nowhere are those local celebrities as beloved as Salty Brine is beloved here.

Why?

Rhode Island is small. We treasure our own. And if they’re successful (and known beyond the borders of this small state), we treasure them even more.

And I am told by people of my age from Massachusetts that they used to love Salty Brine, beamed in from Providence, back in the 1960s and 1970s.

So Salty Brine is a legend, in Rhode Island, and even outside its borders.

You see? You don’t need to reach far in life. You just need to be well-known in your little neighborhood. If you manage that, all kinds of things can happen.


Mister Ed

mister ed


There is a current TV series called “Wilfrid,” in which a man (played by Elijah Wood) owns a dog whom he sees as a person. The dog, Wilfrid (played by the Australian Jason Gann) is willful, and angry, and tricky. Wilfrid pretends to be Elijah’s friend, but he’s not. Wilfrid tricks Elijah repeatedly, and plots against him.

It makes me long for Mister Ed.

Mister Ed was the title character of a TV show back in the 1960s. He was a very charming horse who lived in a stable belonging to Wilbur Post (played by Alan Young), who’d bought the house / stable / horse from a previous owner. Wilbur was shocked when Mister Ed spoke to him. But Mister Ed said: “I only speak when I’m with someone I feel like speaking to.”

Mister Ed could dial an old rotary telephone (with a pencil in his mouth). When he read, he wore giant glasses! (Where did he get them, do you suppose? The Secret Talking Horse Optometrist?)

Mister Ed wasn’t stupid. He knew about most things. He did (in one episode) fall in love with another horse he’d seen in the park, but who hasn’t had that experience?

Mister Ed was a very entertaining horse.

Of course, of course.


In memoriam: Cosmo “Gus” Allegretti

cosmo allegretti


You’ve seen me write about dead relatives, and the passing of friends, and even the passing of celebrities.

 

 

Well, a celebrity passed away a few weeks ago, though many of his fans didn’t even know his real name.

 

 

He was a puppeteer / actor / dancer named Cosmo Allegretti, known to his friends as Gus. He was a regular on the “Captain Kangaroo” program that ran from the 1950s into the 1980s. But you seldom saw him – during the first ten or fifteen years, anyway. He was always in disguise.

 

 

Sometimes he was Dancing Bear, who never spoke, but who communicated through clever little softshoe routines:

 

 

 

 

Sometimes he was fussy old Grandfather Clock, who had to be awakened very gently, and who told stories and recited poems:

 

 

grandfather clock

Later in the show’s history, he was Dennis the Apprentice, always dressed in a painter’s whites, big and earnest and clumsy (though at least he didn’t have to hide his face anymore):

 

 

 

dennis

Best of all, he was Mister Moose and Bunny Rabbit. Bob Keeshan, writing about the show, said that “these two were surrogates for children, demonstrating their playful power over adults.” I loved them both: they were sneaky and dishonest without being really bad. The Captain was often frustrated with both of them, but you could tell that he loved them too, and they seemed to love him too.

 

 

Mister Moose was a practical joker. He was always tricking the Captain into saying things like “Let ‘er rip!”, at which point a couple hundred ping-pong balls would fall from the ceiling all over the Captain’s head. And then Mister Moose would go into raptures. (Personal note: whenever I do a puppet voice, it’s Mister Moose’s reedy falsetto. Why not?)

 

 

Bunny Rabbit was silent, like Dancing Bear. He was small and wore glasses. He’d get the Captain’s attention by rapping on the tabletop, and he always ended up stealing all of the Captain’s delicious carrots.

 

 

Here they are together, bamboozling the Captain one more time:

 

 

 

 

So many good memories.

 

 

Rest in peace, Gus.


 

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