Saturday, November 08, 2008

On penmansh*t, FOX News, and other absurdities.

If you're on AOL, you've probably noticed that one of today's headlines plugs the 2006 book, Sex, Lies and Handwriting: A Top Expert Reveals the Secrets Hidden in Your Handwriting, reissued in paperback this past summer. I offer the following excerpt:

"Somebody who crosses their t halfway doesn't follow through in life. He starts something, but doesn't finish it. But if he crosses his t, he's completing it. That physical act will translate into other areas of his life over time, which is just a small example of how you can change traits in your writing to be better in life."
Now wait just a gosh-darn minute. Let's assume for the sake of argument that there's some actual science or empiricism behind what the titular expert, Michelle Dresbold, says in the first place: that people who don't complete tasks in life are also less likely to complete, say, the t's in their cursive writing. Is this woman seriously proposing that if you turn that aroundif from now on you concentrate on finishing your t's when you writeit will make you complete tasks elsewhere in life, too? Logically speaking, that's a little bit like my saying the following: I've noticed that whenever it rains, the streets get wet. So if I go out and put a tarp on the will stop raining! Voila! I am the master of my domain! Or in more behavioral terms, it's like saying, "I've noticed that I tend to fall down a lot and get scars. So if I go to a plastic surgeon and get the scars fixed, I won't fall down anymore."*

More importantly, on what basis is Dresbold making her rather astonishing, far-reaching claim? Has this been studied? (No, I haven't read her book, but a Google search leads me to believe that no supportive evidence exists. For the record, the only type of handwriting analysis that's considered probative is the type that compares one sample to another for the purpose of determining whether both were likely written by the same individual. And even that's seldom considered conclusive on its own.) This is a classic self-help flaw: the idea that a simple skill like changing one's penmanship is repeatable in other areas of life that are far more complex, and where the context is wholly different and the operative mechanisms are far less well understood.

So what do we have in the end? Another self-styled guru with some esoteric specialtysee also phrenology and numerologywho wants to feed at the ever-lengthening self-help trough. And apparently it's working. The book is doing quite well on Amazon since the headline item appeared this morning.


The past few days I've been making it a point to listen to the mavens on FOXand so gracious they are in defeat, by the way! (Yes, that's sarcasm, for those who always wonder whether or not to take me literally.) I wanted to see how they'd play all this, and if any recognizable new themes emerged.

Last night I managed to sit through an entire hour of Laura Ingraham subbing for Bill O'Reilly, and I tell you, it's unreal how far they'll go to find negative things to say about Obama in their continuing efforts to placate an audience that's majorly bitter in the wake of this past Tuesday. Ingraham, for example, felt compelled to pick apart Obama's first "presser," as insiders like to call such events, which would've been OK except that she criticized every last detail of his performance, seeming not to care that her criticisms sometimes drifted into the realm of the self-contradictory. For e
xample, she first attacked Obama for "not saying anything," and then a few sentences later criticized him again for the "implications" of what he said. This struck me as not unlike criticizing a quarterback for not passing...and then also criticizing him for being a lousy passer. At least stick with one line of condemnation per show, Laura.

But yanno, unlike Sean ("DMoTV") Hannity and some of the others, Laura Ingraham is a very smart cookie. Listening to her drone on in her nasal, please-open-your-mouth-more-when-you-speak voice, I was reminded of how Bill Maher, on his HBO show, once confronted Wall Street Journal writer John Fund, another very bright guy, about Fund's avowed support of Sarah Palin. "You know you don't believe what you're saying!" barked Maher. "The voters may be dumb, John, but you know better. Which goes to my point about the cynicism of it all." Maher was referring, of course, to the willingness of party hacks to defend the indefensible for public consumption, thus pandering to a much less intelligent and/or more fanatical voter base that knows only one thing: THEY WANNA WIN, DAMMIT!

Finally, speaking of defending the indefensible,
FOX for days has been talking about how the GOP needs to refocus itself around a new agenda, and this morning as I watched I think I got a glimpse of what one of those new agendas is likely to be: a very old agenda known as racism. More precisely: stoking racist paranoia among a segment of the population that's already edgy about what having a black face in the White House might mean for Palin's precious "real America." In this framework, the GOP could reinvent itself around the notion that it's the only thing standing between you and some loony-bin black-tivist like Barack Obama giving all your hard-earned cash to welfare queens. This is a reversion to the party message of the 1970s, when government began taking steps to even things out a bit, socially and finanically, and the Angry White Man began to take shape in response.

What do I base this on? This morning FOX showed a post-election clip of a jubilant young black woman effusing about how, now that Barack has been elected, she doesn't have to "worry about my mortgage or my credit cards." As FOX spun it, the clear implication was that Obama's core constituents expect to be individually bailed out on all of their obligations, and can now just spend their time making illegitimate babies and playing pick-up basketball games on Whitey's dime. No matter that this was a young woman who was probably caught up in the moment and got carried away. No matter that she may have been speaking metaphorically, in the sense that Obama's election eased her mind about the future. In any case, again, it was just one young woman. But that's not how it was played.

It just never stops with these people.

* Actually, I think an argument could be made for the falling/scars proposition. Once you take the step of getting all those scars fixed, you might be more careful about, well, where you step in the future, because you don't want to undo what you just had done (if that makes sense). But even in that case, I think a clumsy person is inclined to be a clumsy person. And besides, taking precautions so that you don't fall down too often is a lot easier than fixing a complex behavioral problem like the inability to complete tasks in life.


Anonymous said...

Did McCain lose on Fox? I thought in their world he had won. They should borrow CNN's hologram machine and have him beamed in on a regular basis to make their audience feel better. I remember when they said he was going to win by a landslide with one of their weird polls. I can't believe they even admitted he lost.

Racism is a dicey card to play and the GOP is pretty stupid to try it. It will come back to bite them in the butt, because America is changing so much as far as race goes. Hispanics are outpacing the whites and GOP base is pretty old. The younger generation does not feel the same way about race as previous ones do. Dumb move if that is the GOP plan.

roger o'keefe said...

Re FOX news, but Steve in all honesty aren't you really the same way in reverse? You never find very much to praise in their coverage either, do you? That's just the reality of partisan politics: you attack the other guy (or girl).

Elizabeth said...

it's unreal how far they'll go to find negative things to say about Obama in their continuing efforts to placate an audience

I'm sure Roger would agree that we are seeing definite symptoms of ODS (Obama Derangement Syndrome). ;)

Anon, very funny -- your idea of the McCain hologram beamed to FOX. Maybe they can even create a replica of the Oval Office in the studio and have the hologram sit there from time to time to ease the viewers' trauma. :)

Anon and Steve, I agree that stoking racial fears is the GOP last (and losing) resort. It's a desperate attempt, IMO, directed at the most stuck-up and oldest GOP sympathizers, but one that will ultimately fail as the oldies are dying out and taking their bigotry with them. The young generation does not buy racial bigotry and if the GOP wants to survive (but why? ;), it better come up with a more humane agenda and justification for its existence. JMO.

And now, sigh, about handwriting. I do not know graphology, Steve, but I do know that handwriting offers important clues to our neuropsychology. Indeed we can tell quite a bit about different aspects of a person's neuropsych functioning from looking at his/her handwriting (including such traits as impulsivity/self-control -- though I do not know whether they have to do specifically with crossing one's T's in a particular fashion. Maybe, maybe not. (Actually, I think that crossing -- or not -- one's T's is a good example of attention to detail and impulsivity -- or lack of it -- in our handwriting. There are many others, of course, (as related to handwriting.))

Practicing good handwriting (or, even better, calligraphy) sounds like a good method of developing one's self-control and patience -- as good as any other which requires patience, prolonged practice and the ability to bring a task to completion. Not to mention that it's excellent for eye-hand coordination. There are other, aesthetic and emotional, benefits of practicing good handwriting (and keep in mind I'm not offering an opinion here on graphology, of which I know nothing). Perhaps it is not at all surprising that American kids, who are essentially taught only to print and almost never now required to learn and use cursive, suffer from such high rates of ADHD. (I am not saying that the lack of training in cursive writing causes ADHD, btw, only that there appears to be some form of a correlation between the two.)

Dimension Skipper said...

This isn't really relevant to this particular current post, although I guess you could file it under "other absurdities."

The following makes me go "Hmmmm." Also, I just thought you or others might find it mildly amusing...

Steve, it looks like Scott Adams may be pilfering some of your ideas...

I present as evidence the following Dilbert strips from this past week:

Nov 3 -- This one brought to mind your fairly recent post entitled "Sitting tall" (Oct 16).

Nov 4 -- On determinism. (Do you even have a cubicle to blame, Steve? And btw was that Scott Adams' way of commenting on the election?)

Nov 9 (today's) -- This one incorporates (pun intended) your recurring theme of "unbridled optimism" in the business world and where it eventually leads.


Steve Salerno said...

I tell ya, DS, there's a certain paranoia to which we writers are uniquely subject, wherein we suspect that others are using our works as a source of inspiration--uncredited, and at far greater profit, as in the case of Dilbert. I have also recently become convinced that someone on Bill Maher's team is reading SHAMblog, because in each of his last three or four shows, a theme previously featured on this blog became a key motif on Real Time. In particular I couldn't help noticing Maher's funny riff this past week on McCain's becoming a greeter at Wal-Mart (see my post of Oct. 30).

Of course, these coincidences could also be explained simply by the GMTA phenomenon (and please excuse the hubris of my placing myself in the category of a "great mind." It's just a convenient acronym). On the other hand...well...remember Art Buchwald and Coming to America?

Elizabeth said...

Hmmm... Those shameless plagiarists!

But, seriously (not that plagiarism is not serious), the idea of McCain as a Wal-mart greeter has been floating around for a while (before you brought it up, Steve). I have heard it mentioned, a couple of times at least, on assorted late night talk shows many weeks ago. I think it belongs to the MMTA (many minds...) category. Can't vouch for the rest of Maher's stuff.

Elizabeth said...

Right-wing media feeds its post-election anger

Steve Salerno said...

Eliz 5:01: Well, harrumph then.

Elizabeth said...

Harrumph as in, "shame on you, woman, for minimizing my concerns and trying to defend those who possibly steal my ideas"?

Anonymous said...

Obama Derangement Syndrome just about has it. The man has not yet had a chance to make any decisions as the President, yet in the minds of right wing nuts, he has already screwed up beyond repair. And Rush the gasbag calls Obama "a Chicago thug." Yeah, that's really patriotic. Can somebody tell me why Rush is still on the air in any capacity (and making gazillions)? Shouldn't he be in prison for drug offenses? But here he is, calling Obama a thug... What a prick.

Anonymous said...

Regarding “Sex, Lies and Handwriting,” you are sharp to smell a rat.
Author Michelle Dresbold is a graphologist that claims she can tell you your personality from your handwriting, but she also claims that she is a forensic handwriting expert. Being a forensic handwriting expert is a different discipline that identifies or excludes a writer of a writing. She ‘graduated’ from an advanced course sponsored by the United States Secret Service Questioned Documents (another name for forensic handwriting) which does not qualify you to become a full fledged forensic handwriting course. They tell you right at the course “This does not qualify you to be a questioned document examiner. This course is an overview.” Michelle Dresbold has violated that by not having had additional verifiable training and has held herself out to be qualified after ‘completion’ of the course. You will note in all her public relations material that she claims she ‘graduated’ from the United Stated Secret Service Questioned Document Course. The USSS says that it is only a course and not a school, so there was no ‘graduation,’ just a certificate of completion for attending. Anyone civilian can get into that USSS Questioned Document course if they can get someone from a State or Federal agency to sponsor them. If you have a friend in the police dept., all they have to do is to sign your application to say that it is okay for you as a civilian to go. Oh, and Dresbold stating that she is the “only civilian” to have completed the USSS Questioned Document course is another lie. I know of others.

Please note that Dresbold has never worked for the Secret Service as a forensic handwriting expert. You can call the USSS and check. The person I spoke to is quite aware of her book and to say that they are displeased is a great understatement. Just to clear the record, the Secret Service does not teach graphology.

The biggest lie Dresbold told in her book was that she did a forensic analysis of the JonBenet Ramsey Ransom Note and Patsy Ramsey’s handwriting. Dresbold stole the handwriting comparison charts from a Board Certified Forensic Handwriting Expert who actually worked on the case. Dresbold published that Handwriting Expert’s work in her book, showed the same charts on TV and claimed it was her work…until she was found out and sued by the real author (Cina Wong) of the work. See link below for article.,0,3237844.story

Excerpt from Forums For Justice link:

The special Karma of this whole situation is this.
1) Cina Wong did her homework and took Simon & Schuster to task and won in a copyright infringement suit involving her handwriting analysis that Michelle Dresbold used in her book, "Sex, Lies and Handwriting" published by that company.
2) Cina Wong's analysis charts are dead on. A person would have to be totally blind not to see the analysis of the letter formations between the ransom note and Patsy Ramseys letter formations are one in the same. The ransom note writer and Patsy Ramsey apparently must have went to the same school of ransom note writing !
3) Michelle Dresbold apparently thought she could use Cina Wong's analysis charts in her book "Sex, Lies and Handwriting," as though they were her own work. Ironically the title of the book having the word "Lies" included, obviously, in my opinion fits well with Dresbold's character that she included another persons analysis charts, not only not giving Cina Wong credit for the work but went on the Bill O'Reilly show talking as if she did the analysis !

Steve Salerno said...

Impressive background/context, Anon. I'm sure there is a very good reason why you're an "anon"--especially in this case--but I wish you'd step forward if only so that we could give you proper credit.

Anyway, thanks again.