February 04, 2009

Reversion to mean

Don't try this at home. Or anywhere else. Image courtesy of wikipedia.

Sometime back in the 1990s, Jim Carrey was in a Saturday Night Live skit where he played an office worker who once got cheers from co-workers for telling someone "I'll see you in hell!" Because that worked so well one time, he said it over and over for the rest of his life in the most inappropriate situations.

It was a funny skit but that kind of thing happens a lot in real life. Sometimes we keep trying the same thing because it worked once or because it's the only thing we know how to do.

This was another life/strategy lesson that was drummed into my head and other body parts by sparring in the martial arts, which is kind of a theme this week. Here's how...

Senior students in a fighting dojo are a source of inspiration and terror. They provide encouragement and example, but they also routinely and without malice thrash junior students. This is regarded as something like a Christian duty, the theory being that they do it so other people won't be able to.

When I was a lowly green belt or so, one of the terrors of our dojo was a guy named Brooks. He was a nice guy but a fighting demon. Once when we were sparring I got really lucky and managed to throw a fast spinning back kick to his face. I'm not sure which one of us was more surprised. Luckily for me, he was mostly amused.

(It's a totally impractical kick that could get you killed in some situations, but it looks really cool if you can get away with it.)

After that, for a while I was just like the guy in the SNL skit if you substitute spinning back kick to the head for "I'll see you in hell."

As it happened, there was a tournament coming up. I thought I'd breeze through it with the kick. It worked once, right? You can probably predict the outcome. Let's just say that no trophies followed me home that day.

It never worked on Brooks again either...

Lighting does not often strike twice in the same place. And just because you get lucky once, it does not follow that you will again if you do the same thing. In statistics they call this reversion to the mean. A basketball player who routinely scores 20 points a game may sometimes go on a streak of high or low scores, but over time it averages out.

Enjoy life's spinning back kicks when you can get away with them--but don't count on them. It's better to stick to basics anyway.

DESPITE WHAT YOU MAY HAVE HEARD there's strong public support for an economic stimulus package.

REALITY CHECK. With all the noise about economic policy emanating from and about Washington these days, I highly recommend regularly visiting the site of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. I admit to being a policy wonk, but you don't have to be one to go there and look at the impact of existing and proposed legislation on ordinary people.

HEALTH CARE. Many struggling small businesses are cutting health insurance benefits as the economy sours.


THIS SHOULD HAVE GONE IN YESTERDAY. WV Supreme Court Justice Brent Benjamin has decided to recuse himself from cases involving Massey Energy until the US Supreme Court rules on the situation. Benjamin was elected in 2004 with over $3 million from Massey CEO Don Blankenship. On more than one occasion, he was the deciding vote in cases favorable to Massey.


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