Dear Goers with the Gut,

Ahhhh, the old gut- not just a place for digesting food or housing your microbiome. The guts were long considered to be the seat of various emotions by various civilizations. The Greeks thought that the bowels housed the more passionate and fiery emotions; the ancient Hebrews believed the stomach and intestines were the home of tender and sympathetic feelings. Modern science relocated the locus of emotion to the brain, of course, but discoveries in recent years are backtracking on that just a bit. The digestive tract has more neurons than any organ other than your brain, and it certainly seems as if the microbes in your gut have more influence over your state of mind than we had previously ever thought possible.

Nowadays "the gut" is used as metaphor for an instinctual, subconscious, untraceable deciding faculty, standing in sharp contrast to the analytical prefrontal cortex, which does its reasoning logically, transparently, and in the full light of day.

I love the gut. I go with the gut from time to time myself, but I find it odd how and when most people choose to delegate their decisions to the trusty old gut. There's a time and a place for the gut, but there's also a time and a place to not go with the gut, and many people don't seem to know the difference.

Two years ago my office started a March Madness bracket pool. If you've been living under a rock (or in your parents' basement playing Magic The Gathering) for the last twenty years, here's what one of those brackets looks like.

You try to predict which NCAA basketball teams will win and move on in this elimination tournament, round after round, all the way to the final championship game. You get points for each correct guess, and the points are weighted so that correct guesses in later rounds are worth more than correct guesses in the early rounds. Little known fact: this seemingly innocent fortune-telling game was originally developed and used in order to trick witches into revealing themselves so they could be subjected to trial by ordeal. To this day, correctly guessing the outcome of all 63 games would result in arrest and interrogation.

The eight or so people in our office pitch in $10 each, fill out a bracket with their win/loss guesses, and submit it. The person with the most correct guesses/points at the end of the tournament gets the $80 pot.

Now this seems like a betting game that would favor people who know a lot about college basketball, but (confession time) I've been living in my parents' basement the last twenty years playing Magic The Gathering.

You'd think I'd have no shot at this. One of the guys in our office is an ex-college basketball player, plenty of the people in the office actually enjoy watching college basketball, and I haven't so much as seen a game on TV in over a decade. I vaguely remember something about Duke being a good team back when I was a teenager. UCONN is the name of a team, right? UCONN Ducks I want to say. That's probably wrong.

Anyway, I'm fairly suggestible and I want my coworkers to like me, so I decided to join in on this and slapped $10 and my big, swinging, sports-knowledge nuts on the figurative table. Honestly, I thought I was fucked, until I got one of those printed-out brackets in my hands, and I noticed something funny. The March Madness tournament is played at the end of the college basketball season, and the teams are ranked according to their performance in the regular season leading up to the tournament. The teams are ranked by experts based upon strength of schedule, win/loss ratio, etc, and the rankings ARE ON THE BRACKET.

It took me about three minutes to fill out my bracket. I picked every favorite to win... and then I was done. I've put more thought into whether I should take a shit in the subway bathroom or try to hold it until I get home than I did filling out this bracket. Meanwhile, my colleagues labored over theirs. They researched and argued and debated. They speculated about lineups and match-ups and injuries. They discussed previous games and recent seasons, they penciled in names and then erased them furiously, they waited until the last second to turn in their brackets, just in case fresh information came to light in the hours leading up to the tournament.

And I get it. For serious college basketball fans, this is the fun part. But it wasn't the productive part. I've won the pool both years now. I've ascended to dominance like the planeswalker Nicol Bolas when he munched on the maelstrom of Alara.

After winning it the first year, I thought for sure someone would copy my simple strategy the second time around. Nope. And here's the thing- even the colleagues who are as clueless as I am about college basketball insist upon ignoring the expert rankings and going with their gut. Based upon what criteria? I have no idea. I think some of them pick their winners based upon jersey color or which team has the cooler name. UCONN Ducks. Sounds like a winner.

Unless you're somehow privy to information or experience that the expert rankers are not, substituting their judgement for your own is only going to degrade the quality of your predictions. The bracket is like a test with the correct answers already filled in, from a statistical perspective. There is literally zero reason to change any of them unless you're planning on Tonya Harding-ing the best team's star player.

I know what you're thinking- "But there are huge upsets every year! All of the favorites never win through as predicted."

And that's true. There are upsets every year. But you're not going to pick them. You're going to predict upsets that don't happen and you're going to miss the ones that actually do. I don't know what the odds are that a perfect, no-upset tournament would ever take place, but however infinitesimally low those odds may be, the odds of the tournament playing out according to your randomly assigned upsets is even lower. Granted, you would appear to be a genius if it ever did happen, but the key word here is "appear."

Like I said. I get it. The office pool is about fun and people aren't necessarily doing everything in their power to win. It's a token sum of money, it's about bragging rights, and you can't brag about blindly following the statistically-dominant strategy. No one thumps their chest about being sensible. My big, swinging, sports-knowledge nuts are steeping in figurative cash tea on account of all the winnings, but no one thinks I'm a college basketball guru, or even a witch who needs to be subjected to trial by ordeal.

What I don't get is all the other more important stuff people go with their guts on in the face of better information.

Seeing as November 8th is rapidly approaching, let's start with elections. My gut kind of agrees with Jim Jefferies when Jim says of electing Donald Trump, "There's a little bit of me that thinks, 'Fuck it. Let's do it. Let's do it and see how crazy shit can get.'

I feel like I've got some chops when it comes to crass, political incorrectness. I'm the guy who depicted a Jesus/Mohammed hybrid, compared white people to the sickening artificial sweetness of white chocolate, and wrote of Michael Bay-

Whither shall your career progress after your mouth has been so stuffed with man meat that not one more tube steak can be rammed into your gaping cock holster? Your toothless dong drainer can only accommodate so many rock-hard rods. Only so many phalli can be hammered down your velvety throat with shims and axle grease.

So I think you know where I stand on the sliding scale between free speech and sensitivity. And in a world where dressing up as a samurai for Halloween is racist and making jokes about dongles is sexist, I hope you'll forgive me for briefly sympathizing with a man who just says whatever the fuck he wants and basically tells the P.C. police to drop trou and get fucked.

...and then my prefrontal cortex reminds me that Trump is a used car salesman with a massive inferiority complex and terrible ideas, and I check the box next to "Anyone but Trump" on my ballot, because sometimes my gut is a short-sighted simpleton.

But no matter who you vote for, it's impossible to avoid listening to people opine on the election. Last week I was at a family gathering and I swear to God I overheard my uncle say, "Trump'll win it. I think he has a lot more support than people think he does. I see signs in people's yards all over town, and most of them are for Trump." 

This man has access to myriad national polls, the Iowa Electronic Polls prediction markets, the statistical voodoo of FiveThirtyEight- I mean literally some of the most accurate predictive engines the world has ever seen, but that's not good enough for this modern day Nostradamus. No, instead he's going to base his national election prediction on the yard signs he's spotted in certain neighborhoods in one small, Midwestern town. I was tempted to launch into a discussion about sample size and selection bias but then my aunt sauntered over with a couple of tortilla chips in her hand and said, "I think it looks more like Hillary might take it." 

"A voice of reason," I thought to myself. "Here's someone with an eye on the data."

"Yeah," my Aunt continued, crunching on a chip. "All the moms at Kara's daycare are saying they'll be voting for Hillary."

It's not just fantasy sports and election predictions of course. People ignore or replace good data with their own trivial anecdotes all the time- creationists, moon landing conspiracy theorists, those hemp-wearing hippies who think organic, non-GMO peas are tastier than normal peas.

There's a fine line between going with your gut and talking out your ass. The two are only a few loops of intestine removed from each other after all.

But what I find even more confusing are the situations in which most people choose not to trust their guts. There are so many subjective situations where data is meaningless and the only real guide is opinion and that juicy gut feeling. Despite that, so many people leave these subjective judgments up to so-called "experts," celebrities, and other taste-makers. Why would you let other people make your taste?

There are (not) literally gazillions of amazing bands out there, and there have been for decades. You can find them here, here, and here. Instead the vast majority of us stick to the same 100 songs for months at a time. Many of these songs suck. I know this because my gut told me. I imagine a lot of people's guts have been telling them the same thing, but they're probably too busy fretting over next year's March Madness bracket to hear their gut expressing its opinion about something it actually has expertise on.

Pam Hogg wants you to think this is haute couture. My gut begs to differ.

Here's an art exhibit I found at MoMA in NYC. It's like they're daring us to call them out on their bullshit.

Maybe the bank where I found this painting has excellent taste. Maybe they don't.

Sweet art, hospital. I'm sure this will brighten everyone's day.

My gut says this art installation is tots bogus. Maybe that makes me a close-minded philistine. Or maybe the person selecting the art for this corporate campus is a pretentious art history major who gets his rocks off on a firm pair.

Art. Fashion. Music. Literature. Cinematography.

You're a god in these subjective arenas. You can make sweeping pronouncements and authoritative decrees and no one on planet earth can tell you you're wrong, because there is no right or wrong. 

It's an open sandbox; a free-for-all Mad Max Thunderdome without rules, where bluster, braggadocio, and Nietsche's Will to Power are all that are required to be judge, jury, and executioner. How is it that so many of us get cowed by critics, experts, and advertising agencies into playing follow-the-leader for fear of being thought an uncultivated troglodyte?

More guts! ...and less guts, are what we need. It's a Serenity Prayer type of situation, I guess.

Sebastian Braff


Transcript of the Final Meeting to Select a Name for the Houston NFL 2002 Expansion Team

Monday, May 29th, 2000

Conference Room B at the Ramada Houston Intercontinental, Houston, TX

Attendees:  Bob McNair (Majority owner, Houston NFL Holdings LLC)
                      Steve Patterson (Minority owner, Houston NFL Holdings LLC)
                      Arlen Kantarian (Advisor, NFL Properties LLC)
                      Carl Bassewitz (Owner & Consultant, Bassewitz Group)
                      Guy Kirkland (Agency Principle, Push Graphic Design)

Meetings commences at 14:32. Carl Bassewitz is not yet present.

Bob McNair: Did you find that place that serves the deshebrada?

Arlen Kantarian: I did; I did. Good call. Some great deshebrada.

Bob McNair: Yeah, the place looks like shit from the outside, but that deshebrada is some of the best in Houston.

Arlen Kantarian: I agree.

Steve Patterson: I agree as well. I went there once too.

Bob McNair: I'm glad you liked it, Arlen. Anyway, as I'm sure you know, we've narrowed the potential team names down to three now, and we're not leaving this room until we're down to one. Isn't that right, Steve?

Steve Patterson: Yes it is.

Guy Kirkland: Wait, which are the three that are still on the table? I wasn't aware we had cut two.

Bob McNair: I thought we had kept everyone in the loop on this [looks at Patterson]. We decided against the Toros and the Teamy McTeamfaces. Teamy McTeamfaces polled very strongly in our online surveys, but Arlen brought up a good point that the "Mc" might make people think of Burger King, and we don't want people to associate our franchise with a greasy, cheap fast food restaurant.

Guy Kirkland: Wait... did I... did you say that people will associate the "Mc" prefix with Burger King?

Bob McNair: Well yeah. What was that you were tellin me, Arlen?

Arlen Kantarian: Uh, yes, we were talking about how the "Mc" will probably remind people of Macbeth, which as we all know is about a Scottish general who wants to be king, and Scotland of course is directly across the North Sea from Hamburg.

Steve Patterson: Oh, yeah. I see it now.

Arlen KantarianI mean, it just screams Burger King. [laughs] I mean, the first time Bob told me that Teamy McTeamface was the most popular choice from the questionnaire I said, [laughs] that's a great name, Bob, if you want people walking up to the stadium saying, "Hey, where can I order a Whopper around here?"

Bob McNair: [laughs] I honestly didn't even think about it until you pointed it out.

Guy Kirkland: Isn't Macbeth spelled M-A-C?

Bob McNair: I couldn't tell you for the life of me. What're you drivin at?"

Guy Kirkland: ...so you're telling me that the only reason you didn't take Teamy McTeamface was because the name sounds like a popular hamburger fast food chain... and that chain is Burger King?

Bob McNair: I think that's pretty clear. Is it not? Teamy McTeamface is definitely out, right? [looks at Kantarian].

Guy Kirkland: I feel like I'm taking crazy pills. And what was wrong with the Toros?

Bob McNair: Toros was a little too...

Steve Patterson: ...Mexican.

Bob McNair: I didn't want to say it... but it's out there now. Thank you for being direct, Steve.

Steve Patterson: You're welcome, Bob.

Arlen Kantarian: It didn't poll well in the online survey either, so... I mean either way...

Guy Kirkland: You've got to be kidding me. Toro was the best name you had. What are we left with now?

Bob McNair: The Texans, the Stallions, or the Apollos.

Guy Kirkland: I'm not going to lie, I only brought a logo for the Toros. I wasn't able to comprehend any of the other names being chosen. They're just so dumb.

Bob McNair: I think you're dead wrong there, partner. 

Guy Kirkland: This is all I've got. [motions towards a manila envelope] 

Bob McNair: Well... show us your bull then.

[Kirkland pulls out a sheet of paper from a manila envelope]

Bob McNair: That's not bad. You've got all the little things in there; it looks like the Texas flag...

Arlen Kantarian: That is a nice piece of work. Too bad you spent so much time working on the Toros concept.

Bob McNair: Maybe we can work it in somehow. We could use this for one of the finalists. You could change it a little to look like a Stallion, or an Apollo... or a Texan.

Guy Kirkland: What does a Texan look like?

Bob McNair: Independant, strong-willed...

Arlen Kantarian: Maybe a little overweight. [McNair scowls in his direction] I'm kidding, I'm kidding, of course. But of the three final names, I have to say, I'm especially fond of... the Apollos [hands spread to the sky]

Guy Kirkland: There is literally a professional sports team in this very city already named the Houston Rockets. You'd just be a more specific version of a name that's already in use... in Houston!

Steve Patterson: Houston, we've got a problem. [Kirkland and Kantarian stare at Patterson]

Arlen Kantarian: How do you know we're even referring to the rocket program?

Guy Kirkland: Because people in Houston are always referring to the rocket program. You looked to the sky as you introduced the name; don't pretend like you're not... [interrupted by Kantarian]

Arlen Kantarian: Maybe Apollo refers to the Greek god.

Bob McNair: That would also be good.

Guy Kirkland: In the plural? It's a team. Fifty-three copies of one mythological character? Really? No one needs more than one Apollo.

Bob McNair: He's a god. I reckon he could do whatever he wants, isn't that right, Steve?

Steve Patterson: I suppose that's right.

Guy Kirkland: The Houston Zeuses. Does that sound good to you?

Arlen Kantarian: Not really, but that's only because Zeus already ends with an "s." I wouldn't name the team the Houston Dr. Suesses either.

Guy Kirkland: Tennessee already has Titans. They're already using characters from Greek mythology and at least Titans doesn't sound ridiculous when used in the plural.

Arlen Kantarian: Yeah, but there aren't fifty-three Titans in Greek mythology either. So according to your logic I guess that's wrong as well.

Bob McNair: That's just about enough talk about the Titans. If I had my druthers there'd be one name on our agenda today, and it'd be the Houston Oilers. Damn you to hell, Bud Adams. And I'll tell you what, that Paul Tagliabue can go to hell too.

Steve Patterson: He's the worst commissioner we've ever had.

Arlen Kantarian: Guys, [raises his hands] let's not waste time talking about what we like or what we don't like about the commissioner.

Bob McNair: Steve likes the Stallions, don't you Steve?

Steve Patterson: I do. They're majestic animals.

Guy Kirkland: There are already three horse teams in the NFL. Do you really want to be the fourth horse team? I love horses, but come on.

Arlen Kantarian: Three?

Bob McNair: I'm counting the Broncos, obviously. And then you've got... uhh... who else we got, Steve?

Steve Patterson: ...the Colts!

Bob McNair: Exactly. That's a sorta horse, I guess. A young one at any rate. But who's number three?

Guy Kirkland: The Chargers.

[groans from all parties present, Kirkland excepted]

Arlen Kantarian: That hardly counts. No one knows that the Chargers are supposed to be a horse. 

Guy Kirkland: Aside from it being unoriginal, from a metaphorical angle, do you really want Houston's mascot to be the animal that Dallas' mascot rides?

Arlen Kantarian: ...ahhh. That's true.

Bob McNair: What do you mean?

Arlen Kantarian: The Dallas Cowboys. Cowboys ride stallions to work every day.

Bob McNair: So you're sayin we would be their bitch, or what?

Guy Kirkland: Metaphorically speaking, yes. I could imagine a lot of jokes.

Arlen Kantarian: You want to step out of Dallas' shadow, not play into the butt of a Cowboys joke.

Steve Patterson: [Snickers] Into the butt of a cowboy... [cackles]

Bob McNair: Daggnabit. What about the Texans? I personally like the Texans. It panders, but in a good way. Like you said, Guy, we have to step out of the Cowboys' shadow. We have to be more Texan than the Cowboys, and I can't think of anything more Texan than a Texan.

Arlen Kantarian: I like it. I like the Apollos more, I've got to say, but I also like the Texans.

Guy Kirkland: But Houston is already part of the name. People know where the team is from. In fact, they already have a very specific location. Texans is redundant after you say Houston. You might as well name the team the Houston Houstonites or the Texas Texans.

Bob McNair: Houstonians, is what we're called. Guy, I know you're from Texas, but I have to question whether you really understand Texan pride.

Guy Kirkland: I understand Texan pride. My front door growing up had a Texas star etched in the glass. There was a steel star on the living room wall. My parents had Texas flag pillow covers. But it doesn't make any sense. Imagine if the Eagles called themselves the Philadelphia Pennsylvanians or the Lions called themselves the Detroit Michiganers. You're just saying the same thing twice; less specifically the second time. It's dumb.

Bob McNair: Well I'll tell you who didn't think it was dumb- Lamar Hunt. Had to buy the name off him.

Guy Kirkland: Lamar Hunt of the Kansas City Chiefs? Why did you have to buy the name Texans from the Kansas City Chiefs?

Bob McNair: Because before they were in Kansas City the team was in Dallas, and they used to be called the Dallas Texans. This was back in the AFL days.

Guy Kirkland: Wasn't there another Texans team?

Arlen Kantarian: Oh, do you mean the San Antonio Texans? That was a CFL team. They folded up about five years ago.

Guy Kirkland: So every major city in Texas with a football team has recycled this name and you'd like for Houston to give it a go as well?

Bob McNair: Actually there's already been a Texans football team in Houston as well. [Kirkland rolls eyes and throws hands into the air]

Arlen Kantarian: That's right... The World Football League, right? I remember them. Seventies, right?

Bob McNair: Damn right. You remember the Houston Texans, right Steve?

Steve Patterson: That's right.

Bob McNair: So you see, Guy, there's a long history behind the name. It's heritage here in Texas to have a football team named the Texans.

Arlen Kantarian: It's the place so nice they named it twice; like New York, New York.

Bob McNair: Let's not start comparing Texas to that rat's nest.

Guy Kirkland: [Looking at laptop] Other team names in the WFL included the Birmingham Americans, the Honolulu Hawaiians, and the Memphis Southmen, formerly the Toronto Northmen. This league was a Who's Who of laughably bad team names. It folded up after two years. Is this the magic we're trying to rekindle?

[Carl Bassewitz enters the room, obviously flustered]

Carl Bassewitz: I'm so sorry for being late. My secretary is... [throws hands into the air] she's a mess right now. Scatter brained...

Bob McNair: Well better late than never I always say. Uhh, say, Carl, is that salsa on your shirt?

Carl Bassewitz: It... is not. That's actually something else.

Guy Kirkland: Something else?

Bob McNair: You came at just the right moment. Carl, we find ourselves at something of an impasse on these names here. I like the Texans, Arlen likes the Apollos... [Kantarian interrupts]

Arlen Kantarian: Although I think the Texans is a very good choice as well...

Bob McNair: Yes, and Steve here prefers the Stallions.

Steve Patterson: I like horses.

Bob McNair: Yes, he likes horses. And Guy doesn't like any of the names but he did bring us a picture of a bull. You've got to break the tie here.

Carl Bassewitz: [sits down at the table and reaches back to the drink cart] Which one did you like again, Bob?

Bob McNair: I'm partial to the Texans.

Carl Bassewitz: So it would be the place the team is from... twice?

Guy Kirkland: This is exactly what I said.

Carl Bassewitz: I like it.

Guy Kirkland: What?

Bob McNair: Here's a man who knows his stuff. [Points at Bassewitz]

Carl Bassewitz: You know what they say- to pander is to slander with candor.

Guy Kirkland: No one says that. Nor does it make any sense.

Steve Patterson: I've heard it before.

Carl Bassewitz: Texans is very inclusive; we might pull off some Dallas fans.

Guy Kirkland: ...and no one from Mexico, New Mexico, or Oklahoma.

Carl Bassewitz: The name plays off Texan pride, and from a marketing standpoint, I think that's a very savvy move. Your gut is leading you right here, Bob.

Bob McNair: What about the logo? [pushes the sheet of paper to Bassewitz]

Carl Bassewitz: It's clearly a bull... or a steer of some kind.

Steve Patterson: Maybe a horned cow.

Carl Bassewitz: Yes, perhaps... [sideways glance towards Patterson] I think it works. That could be a Texan. Cattle are Texans too, aren't they? After they cross the border?

Bob McNair: Yes, that's correct. As long as they've established residence here, they're considered Texan cattle.

Guy Kirkland: So you're not going to use the Toros name, but you're still going to use the Toros logo anyway?

Bob McNair: You mean the Texans' logo? Cause now it's the Texans' logo. [Looks around the table] Do we have consensus on that?

Arlen Kantarian: I love it.

Carl Bassewitz: You know my opinion.

Steve Patterson: I like horses.

Bob McNair: We know, Steve. I'll get you a horse. Maybe someone can ride a horse around the field before the game starts if it's not too dangerous.

Carl Bassewitz: That could pose liability challenges.

Bob McNair: And Guy, I know you're still bullish on the Toro name. [chuckles] How about we name the mascot Toro?

Guy Kirkland: This meeting makes less and less sense the longer it goes on. But you know what? Ok. That sounds good. Let's do that. Toro the bull, official mascot of the City-in-Texas Texans, who have a bull logo on their helmet.

Steve Patterson: [laughs uproariously] Bullish on Toro! That was a good one, Bob! [continues laughing]

Bob McNair: All this bull talk is getting me hungry for deshebrada. Whadyou say we a-journ this meeting and go eat?

Carl Bassewitz: Yeah, I think we've found our solution.

Arlen Kantarian: I actually just ate deshebrada.

Guy Kirkland: Fuck it, I'll have some deshebrada. Bring on the deshebrada. We should have named the team the Houston Deshebradas.

Steve Patterson: [shakes head] Too Mexican.

[meeting attendees all stand]

Meeting concludes, 14:43