When are jokes funny and arguments persuasive? (timing and causality)

Jokes are funny late at night when you are tired and don’t plan on doing anything else. See Brad Wright’s post on causality.

I like watching late-night talk shows, and I find the monologues to be really funny. Recently, however, I’ve tried watching them during the day on the shows’ websites, and I didn’t enjoy them at all. The same joke, told late at night, will have me in stitches but in the middle of the day bores me. To really enjoy them I think that I have to be tired and not planning to do anything else. So, the effect of late-night jokes (A) on my laughing (B) varies by the time of day (C).

I wonder if we can extrapolate that to some more obvious forms of presentation:

  • My wife and I are more likely to agree after we’ve eaten dinner than before [We actually have a rule: “no arguments allowed before dinner.”] I’m more likely to be persuasive if she’s gotten a break; I’ve taken care of the kids, dinner, dishes, etc.; and I’m in the middle of giving her a shoulder massage.
  • People are more likely to listen to you if they have nothing else to do anyway. Maybe that is why road trips are so important to couples; they fill the time by talking about things they could have been talking about all the time, but never got around to – dreams, hopes, etc.. This may also explains why many business deals are sealed on the golf course.
  • And why it is better to write research in the early morning than later in the day when you are tired.

. . . speaking of which.

Read Wright’s whole post on causality including how chocolate can help you lose weight, and how wealth – rather than poverty – can promote crime (causality without correlation).

What do you want to do with your PhD? (comic)

If you are doing a PhD, or married to someone doing a PhD, you should subscribe to this site: www.phdcomics.com. They send an e-mail every time they post a new comic, and the 30 seconds it takes to look are usually well worth the laugh (it’s free). Below is today’s comic. Apart from the goatee, this guy looks awfully familiar (hair and eye color at least). To be honest, some of his previous appearances hit closer to home.


As for me, I think I know what I want to do – at least the general context, who I want to serve, and the types of things I want to be doing. On the other hand, I know the downsides of the job market. In a previous job, I worked with several PhDs who were basically doing glorified administration. It struck me then that I was already doing administration, though at a lower lever, and that made me wonder whether the sacrifice of time and money was really worth it. Let’s face it. PhDs in biblical studies are a dime a dozen; PhDs in New Testament are especially common. A provost of a seminary once told me that for every NT position they advertise, they get well over a hundred applications. (OT was more like 30; many were pastors looking to come return to academia.) In my program here, six of us are doing NT; only one is doing OT. (The translation department on the other hand has four candidates doing OT translation; the other one is studying the metaphor of light in both the OT and NT.) As a result, it was a little tough knowing that by choosing NT, I was basically killing any real job prospects. I’m not that good.

As for me, my basic goal when I am done is to assist African scholars in research and writing and to support African Christian leaders in a variety of ways. True there are already great people here doing that, but the field is expanding rapidly and is a little less crowded. This also explains why I wanted to do my program here. Having done undergrad and masters in the US, there is a lot I needed to learn from the African context. (Otherwise, a library is a library; research is research, and I have great supervisors and good outside contacts. I can’t ask for a lot more.) Frankly, this is a close to “home” as anywhere for me, and these are my people.

There are a lot of different ways to slice the future pie for me. Funding it is another story. That’s always the rub isn’t it?

If you don’t want to know, don’t ask

The ever irreverent Pastor Rev. Dr. Jim West has posted a very funny story. Since I know some of you won’t dare click on his site, I had to repost it here, because I don’t want you to miss it. (I hope he can forgive me.)

Lawyers should never have asked a Mississippi grandma a question if they weren’t prepared for her answer.

In a trial, a Southern small-town prosecuting attorney called his first witness, a grandmotherly, elderly woman to the stand. He approached her and asked, ‘Mrs. Jones, do you know me?’ She responded, ‘Why, yes, I do know you, Mr. Williams. I’ve known you since you were a boy, and frankly, you’ve been a big disappointment to me. You lie, you cheat on your wife, and you manipulate people and talk about them behind their backs. You think you’re a big shot when you haven’t the brains to realize you’ll never amount to anything more than a two-bit paper pusher. Yes, I know you.’

The lawyer was stunned. Not knowing what else to do, he pointed across the room and asked, ‘Mrs. Jones, do you know the defense attorney?’

She again replied, ‘Why yes, I do. I’ve known Mr. Bradley since he was a youngster, too. He’s lazy and he has a drinking problem. He can’t build a normal relationship with anyone, and his law practice is one of the worst in the entire state. Not to mention he cheated on his wife with three different women. One of them was your wife. Yes, I know him.’

The defense attorney nearly died.

The judge asked both counselors to approach the bench and, in a very quiet voice, said, ‘If either of you idiots asks her if she knows me, I’ll send you both to the electric chair.’