Notes on how things seem to me from out here in Hollywood... As seen from Just Above Sunset
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Photos and text, unless otherwise noted, Copyright 2003,2004,2005,2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Monday, 30 May 2005

Topic: Oddities

Trends: Time to Change the Tune, or Change the Tone?

Last year I installed tracking software on the homepage of Just Above Sunset, the parent site to this web log. It was free, and shows all sorts of things – the search terms folks use to reach the site (like entering "gay cars" led to this) - and the location of the server used to reach the site (we’re nearing twenty unique logons from Malta, there all always a few from Romania, and today a logon from Sri Lanka, although probably not Arthur C. Clark). There are lots of logons from Western Europe, particularly France – and that is no doubt due to the Our Man In Paris columns, with photos, from Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis. After the US, the largest numbers of unique visitors, in order, come from Canada, the UK, France and then Australia. Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, Belgium and Spain follow in the distance – then the Philippines and Japan.

The tracking software also shows the name of the server used to reach the site. There have been logons from the government – from the Department of Prisons to the Department of Justice to congress to FEMA (my second ex-wife?) – and from the military, and from a foreign government ( There are lots of logons from universities – Columbia, NYU, MIT and the Ivy League, along with many from small evangelical Christian colleges in the South and Mid-West. And today there was a logon from the Council on Foreign Relations of all things.

This is cool, but the odd thing is the number of unique logons is beginning to fall off – the daily numbers are down, staring to run below the average of 375 or so. Weekly? The week of April 24 there was a peak of 2,867 unique visitors, but last week only 2,537 – and although the weekly average since February is around 2,550 the trend is clear.

What to make of this? As summer arrives folks spend less time surfing the net? The limit of new visitors has been reached and only regular readers should be noted? The thrill is gone? The content is less appealing now?

Hard to tell.

But here is one explanation.

Why some people just don't get it
Brain damage may account for an inability to appreciate sarcasm.
Jamie Talan. Newsday (republished in the Los Angeles Times), May 30, 2005

What is this about?
Scientists have discovered comedy central in the brain — specific tissue regulating the ability to understand sarcasm.

People with damage to the right frontal lobe, right behind the eyes, are unable to appreciate this kind of humor.

In sarcasm, "the literal meaning is different from the true meaning, and some people just don't understand that difference," said Simone Shamay-Tsoory, a psychologist at the Rambam Medical Center and the University of Haifa in Israel. Her study is in the May issue of the journal Neuropsychology.
It seems these folks at this Rambam Medical Center, these curious Israelis, rounded up twenty-five people with damage to the frontal lobe and sixteen with damage in the region to the back of the brain – and a control group of normal-brained folks – hooked them all up to scanners and presented them all with a series of sarcastic comments.

The result?
For instance: Joe fell asleep at work. His boss walks by. "Don't work too hard, Joe," he says. Normal volunteers and people with damage to the back of the brain understood that the boss was being sarcastic. But Shamay-Tsoory said that people with damage to the right frontal lobe didn't get the irony of the comment and failed to understand that the boss was not happy with his lethargic employee.

Shamay-Tsoory says that apart from brain injury, perhaps even subtle differences in the "wiring" of this region can leave people unable to empathize, and it is this lack of ascertaining another's emotional state that may be responsible for the inability to understand sarcasm.

Sarcasm is used in social situations as an indirect way of expressing criticism, she said. The network that regulates one's ability to appreciate sarcasm begins with an understanding of the meaning of the sentence, which is carried out by the left frontal lobe. Then the right frontal lobe helps put it into a social context. Finally, the right frontal lobe must be able to differentiate between the literal meaning and what is really meant.

Dr. Antonio Damasio, head of the neurology department at the University of Iowa College of Medicine, said this finding made perfect sense. "People with damage on the right side of their brain … have major problems with social cognition, or thinking," he said.
Ah, my readership is falling off as the defective-right-side folks, seeing my left-leaning links, skip them and move on to matters more to their liking.

Posted by Alan at 12:42 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

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