Saturday, August 30, 2008

Post 1400 - Yeah, That's Really Funny

On the way back from the Denver convention, National Chairman of the DNC Don Fowler comments on possible Hurricane Hannah hitting Florida. Hint: His first thought is how it's going to play politically.

Via Redstate

Dog Language and Political Language

David, who just commented, has a repost at Photon Courier.
When you talk to a dog, you don't have to worry a lot about using syllogisms, complete sentences, good analogies, or crisply-argued chains of logic. What he's looking for is keywords...particular words and short "nice doggie" or "here" or, especially, "dinner."

It strikes me that, increasingly, the way in which politicians address the American people is very similar...
Read more.

The A&H Tribe Spews Foam

The Arts & Humanities Tribe is unhappy with the Sarah Palin nomination. Feminists from the Business Tribe or Science & Technology Tribe seem less bothered. That was predictable.

Among the criticisms of Gov. Palin, a few points seem general, such as her experience - I will not touch on those here. What amuses me are the criticisms which clearly come straight from the A&H belly. You can feel them tremble with rage when they point out that she was a beauty queen - our girls don't do that! Those are well, Southern, a little bit low-rent. I mean, I'm sure that there are some very nice girls there, but...; she and her family drive snow machines, and other motorized recreational equipment - those jet skis are so noisy up at the lake, and all those snowmobiles are too, and they put out smoke - I just don't understand what people see in them. Yes, dear, I know the Sartorelli's have them, but he made his money as a plumbing contractor in Framingham - they're wonderful salt-of-the-earth people and Theresa is one of my dearest friends up at the camp, but...; Sarah Palin fishes, and hunts - our sort of people don't do that. That's for rural people, unsophisticated sorts who like to bang away at defenseless animals, euhh....

I know my people. Abortion is their big issue because you know, a woman's career... and anyone can have a baby and be a hausfrau, but... These are cultural markers, and their real measuring sticks. It is not enough to be a successful woman; one has to be successful in the right way.

Friday, August 29, 2008


I understand she's a better shot than Dick Cheney, too.

Sarah Barracuda

That was apparently her nickname in highschool, because of her intensity as a point guard. I think we should check with her friends, particularly her old boyfriends, whether that was the real reason. I'm not suggesting any specific meaning to that nickname, I'm just wondering what "Sarah Barracuda" would have implied at my school.

Etymological diversion: Nickname is one of those words that got divided wrongly because of the a/an of the indefinite article in English. (Another would be a naeddre, a snake, which became an adder by the reverse type of split.) It was an eke-name, meaning an also-name. "Eke" meaning also is related to "eke" as in "eke out a living." The earlier verb eacan meant "increase."

I don't know where "barracuda" comes from, though. It sounds like a Spanish corruption of a native word.


Her kids are named Track, Bristol, Willow, Piper, and Trig.

Yup. She's pretty libertarian.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Quote Of The Week

Megan McArdle, over at bloggingheads TV:
We were American Baptist, which is kind of like being a Unitarian without all the dogmatic theology. I used to go to Sunday School there, and it took me years to figure out that the hymns that we sang were about Jesus. Because you never mentioned Jesus or God directly, in case it offended someone.


My brother the theater professor had assured me I would like Tom Stoppard's "Arcadia," and Ben just gave it to me, so I followed up The Coast Of Utopia with some earlier Stoppard. Goodness, what a masterpiece.

The action takes place in a single room of a country manor(Stoppard plays with the Unities, but uses them heavily). The odd-numbered scenes take place in 1809, the even-numbered in the present. The characters of the present day are trying to determine from records what transpired in the earlier era. It's a common literary device, usually for comic effect, to watch people draw wrong conclusions about events the audience is in on. We know what actually did happen; we laugh at the bumblers misinterpreting the signs.

This theme of working backward from the data is supported by even the sound effects: gunshots in the distance (who or what has been shot?), piano for four hands offstage (who is playing, and why does it grow more intense, then break off?), and a steam engine (for what purpose?). Even the recursive mathematics uses it.

Asimov used the device at least twice. It is central to A Canticle For Liebowitz. Carol Kendall uses it in The Gammage Cup, and a host of detective parodies get mileage out of sleuths being too clever by half in their interpretations. Heck, I even used it myself in a novel I wrote years ago (unpublished, don't try to google for it).

Stoppard had earlier used it to brilliant effect in "After Magritte," my all-time favorite one-act.
Thelma: For some reason my mind keeps returning to that one-legged footballer we passed in the car... What position do you suppose he plays? I mean, what fantastic pluck! What never-say-die spirit, you know what I mean? Bloody unfair on the rest of the team, mind you - you'd think the decent thing to do would have been to hang up his boot.
Harris: It wasn't a football, it was a turtle.
Thelma: A turtle?
Harris: Or a large tortoise.
Thelma: What?
Harris: He was carrying a tortoise.
Thelma: You must be blind.
Harris: It was he who was blind.
Thelma: And how do you explain the West Bromwich Albion football shirt?
Harris: Pyjamas. He was wearing pyjamas.
Thelma: Pyjamas...I suppose he was hopping in his sleep. Yes, I can see it now - a bad dream - he leaps to his foot, grabs his tortoise and feels his way into the street -
I digress. Any excuse to quote from that play. Back to "Arcadia."

Either one of the plays would be interesting alone. Woven together, they take on a universality that highlights one of his main themes.

The comic word-play and sight gags are there as in Stoppard's earlier work - the same tortoise is present in both eras - but he is after bigger and more serious game. The teenage girl in 1809 is gradually intuiting mathematics that will not be discovered for a hundred and fifty years,* setting down diagrams and equations in her copy book, which the later characters have access to. Stoppard gets the math right, by the way, as he got the physics correct in "Jumpers." That in itself is unusual in a modern playwright. The maths are a springboard to both jokes and arguments about determinism, randomness, and inevitability. Stoppard, in his usual risque way, concludes that sex is what undermines determinism, with clever references to the thermodynamics of bodies in heat.

The audience is ahead of the present-day characters in understanding the connections to the past, but even we do not have the full weight descend upon us until the very end. We also solve as we go.

I am always certain that I am missing much of what Stoppard sneaks in as jokes or illustrations. I picked up the subtle reference of the dahlias in print, but they are not mentioned in the dialogue, and not a person in a thousand would both recognize the flower and the mathematical connection. I picked it up only by chance, even with the hint. How many more have I missed?

* Iterated algorithms, for those who care. You don't have to previously understand these to follow the plot.

Sunday, August 24, 2008


It is toleration of dissent which makes America great, not dissent itself. There is dissent in all nations, even if only under the breath or published anonymously. To claim that dissent is noble in itself, or even "the highest form of patriotism," is rather like claiming that because you are innocent until proven guilty, the most law-abiding thing you can do is act suspicious.

Saturday, August 23, 2008


I think the following words should be banned from church conferences:

An impious thought: I wonder if any of the words of scripture were buzzwords when they were first written down, seeming dated soon after? Edification? That is soooo First Century.

Jake Armerding

We saw Jake Armerding live two weeks ago, and I bought his CD. Boston-scene singer-songwriter multi-instrumentalist. He carries a "folk" categorization, but he's got a more Allison Krause sound to me. Or Western Swing, or Nickel Creek.

If I tell you some guy is a brilliant lyricist and then quote those lyrics in print, it always looks lame. Lyrics occur in musical context, and without that skeleton, they just lie around like flesh on the floor. But I can give you some hint by telling you that his "Ithaca" is about Odysseus, not New York, and the happy "Little boy Blue" is subtitled North of North Dakota.

The Voice Of Saruman

As the McDonald's bag says, "I'm lovin' it." Joe Biden gets the Democratic VP nomination. Others will tell you better than I about the horse race aspect of this. Let me tell you about Joe Biden. I posted on him two years ago, in an entry called The Voice Of Saruman, and I like my words just as well today.
I believe Joe Biden when I am listening to him. There is something about him that carries such a weight of sincerity that the power of his voice pulls me in. He has the trick of sincerity.
From start to finish, this is not an honest man.

Joe "I think I have a much higher IQ than you" Biden. Senator Biden does not have a higher IQ than the average of this blog's attendees. Okay, that would be true about anyone, but that's why no one should say such dumb-ass stuff. You never know when a faster gun is present.

Ooh. ooh. The Biden quote from 1988 is available on YouTube. Note the smile at the end.

Update: Steve Sailer quotes from Mickey Kaus's Slate article on the above video. Apparently all the rest of Sen. Biden's comments we hear are uh, untrue.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Larry and Denise

Larry David is the smartest person I ever met, and I have met many. He came out of Dover HS to the summer Advanced Studies Program at St. Paul's in 1970. In that supercompetitive group of hotshots from around the state, Larry was not merely admired, but spoken of in hushed tones. Or laughed about, mostly kindly. Among that year's top physics students in the state, he knew more physics - and he wasn't in the physics class. He knew more math than both the Concepts of Math and Topics of Math people - more biology than those in advanced biology. He went on to PhD MIT - big surprise there - and last I heard (1990) was at Bell Labs working on some sort of low-temperature ceramics for which Japanese companies paid him fortunes year after year. A well-meaning, socially inept genius, which we have always had with us, but only recently have recognised have Asperger Syndrome. It leads to an interesting speculation: if Larry's mill-city school system had attempted to treat him, as we would now, would he have become, well, Larry David, the great Chiezu?

You can't accurately predict which ones are which when they're young. If you don't accommodate them and teach them how to work around different environments, some of them are going to just fall apart and never catch on in life. But if you do, then maybe you lose Isaac Newton. What's the tradeoff point?

Was Larry pleased with his lot? I used to think so - a qualified yes. When I was inviting classmates back for the 1990 reunion I had a phone conversation with Larry - one of my most memorable ever. He told me about his mountain climbing in the Whites and Adirondacks, his company softball and fantasy baseball, but finished with "Y'know Dave, I envy you. (This was undoubtedly sincere. It would never occur to Larry to say such a thing just to be polite.) A wife, children. I often wish that I had done that, but I just can't seem to have a relationship with any girls." Larry, I protested, surely there must be some woman in the AMC who understands enough chemistry to know what it is you do and give you something to talk about. "That's not the problem, Dave. It's that they can't keep up. I like to climb five, six peaks a day." I remember thinking Larry, any grease monkey knows - if the girls can't keep up, slow down! but I didn't say it. In 1990, I decided that Larry could know that if he wanted to, but was choosing not to for some reason of shyness or fear of intimacy or whatever.

I no longer think that. To a person with an Autism Spectrum Disorder, it can sometimes be that the pace you walk is the pace you walk, because your goal is to climb mountains. There's not necessarily anything psychoanalytic about the lack - it's a hardware glitch in your brain. Whether it's a bug or a feature is debatable, I suppose. I don't know if Larry's happy or not. I'm not sure Larry knows.

So it's quite familiar to me when Denise, a high-school sophomore at church, comes up and says, apropos of nothing but with a big smile "Combustion equations are easy to set up, but harder to solve." (That's a positive comment about the equations for Denise). Denise plays the viola, BTW, in case you hadn't guessed something like that. She did drag some boy around a museum while on orchestra tour in Europe this summer, but apparently there was no summer crush involved. She seemed puzzled that I would even ask. Lovely, lovely girl, and in our made-up stories, the Denises and Larrys find each other and are charmingly if clumsily devoted to each other forever.

But in reality, the Denises don't climb mountains fast enough, and the Larrys can't slow down.

"I've Had A Really Rough Road"

She was brought in for a dirty urine tox screen. She has a pre-trial agreement that allows her to be out of jail until her hearing if she follows certain conditions. The trial is for attempting to kill her boyfriend with her car. He survived, but is permanently disabled.

The other side. It really can suck to be bipolar. Off medications, she is slender and cute, charming and the life of the party most of the time. When she is only hypomanic she has friends, people like her, she gets promotions at work. Only when that crests a little higher does she get angry, grandiose, and uncontrollable. Eleven months out of twelve she has a good life. One month a year she is dangerous. On mood-stabilizing medication, she gains weight, she feels tired all the time, she tries to work full-time but usually cannot. She then has few friends and hardly anyone pays her any attention.

Predictably, she hates feeling rotten, and has chronic temptations to cut down or eliminate her medications or to take some fun chemicals. It is just plain hard – perhaps impossibly hard for some – to feel that lousy for months on end. Some people with affective disorders are much luckier – they have fewer side effects, better supports, or milder symptoms. The substance abuse has made all this much worse. When you live in a wash of fun chemicals, that becomes the new normal. Your old baseline mood now feels like depression. Would any of us do better up against that wall?

Which is true? Both are true. How can one feel sorry for her? Yet how can one not feel sorry for her? Oh by the way - she used to work here many years ago. We love her and hate her.

Love does the right thing for a person, even if it breaks your own heart and theirs. Without us putting restrictions on her, she will become more and more of a misery to herself and to everyone she meets. If you cut her slack, she doesn’t learn. So we are very hard people at my hospital when we have to be. People try to avoid reality, we turn them back to face it. We don’t rub their noses in it – their noses are already in it.

You can do this job without feelings of love and still be doing it right. Ideally a Christian should be both loving and firm. Easy to say.

Autobiographical accounts from folks who were going wrong but then turned around often stress that it was someone who loved them, someone who wouldn't give up on them, someone who believed in them that made the difference. I'm sure it seems that way, and I wouldn't want to discourage any Christian from hanging on and believing in their prodigal against all sense. I imagine there is something to it if people keep mentioning it. Yet you should notice that biographies written by outside observers don't usually see it that way. Facing a tough reality and compensating for it seems a more common theme there.

An ideal agape love likely includes both, and I can find scripture in both directions which is more important. I say that I lean toward firmness even at the risk of coldness, but that may just be a story I tell myself. With my own sons I may have done the opposite, while only threatening to be a cold hard guy. But however well I did in practice, I'm pretty sure my theory is true. Love does the right thing, though it breaks your own heart and theirs.

Free Market Reminder

The poor should not have to depend on what the powerful agree to give them in order to prosper. A free market at least offers the possibility that you can prosper no matter how selfish and oppressive the others in your society are. Group politics are founded on the idea that enough votes or pressure will shame or compel your neighbors, or even oppressors, into giving up good things. This works moderately well, but has three enormous limitations:

1. The individual is still powerless. He must give his power to the group, with all the compromise and unwilling association that implies. Whatever the collective decides, he is then bound to in a simple up-or-down vote. In a group large enough to have national impact, he is as voiceless as he is in the nation as a whole. Only if he can penetrate to group leadership does he have a say. Elections and government might have to work this way, but a person’s individual freedom and prosperity should not depend on anything so flimsy.
2. What the group can extract from the whole is necessarily limited, and the distribution must go to the whole group. Group politics can bring the indivdual some security, but it cannot ever provide wealth. It can improve justice, but has little impact on fairness.
3. Group politics are economically inefficient, reducing the overall wealth that a society might have.

I prefer not to stake my happiness on how much I can influence those in power to do nice things for me. It's not that group efforts don't do anything, but that they don't do enough.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Political Word Differences

(First part reposted from October 2006)

I have noted before that Republican ads always say they're going to work for you, while Democrats always say they're going to fight for you. I got thrown a curve ball this morning, when Betsi DeVries promised to fight against a sales and income tax, but my code-breaking was successful. She fights. She's a Democrat.

On my trip down to Houston and across to Pensacola I heard political ads in other states, and of course we in southern NH hear the ads on the Boston radio stations as well. Same pattern. People may uncover counterexamples, but I think my observation will hold up generally.

I think that word choice bespeaks a fundamental difference in the way the two parties view government - or at least, if Bethany is correct, how they view their constituents. Democrats believe that powerful people are out to screw the less-powerful, and if someone doesn't fight for them, they're going to get in in the neck. Republicans see people as able to fend for themselves, and government as a tool to limit the damage of the bad guys. Both believe that banding together is necessary to accomplish some things, though they differ on how much of that should be done.

Well, there's some truth in both those positions. I lean heavily toward the make-your-own-life view of the Republicans, but there are certainly times when the powerful need to be constrained, or at least whacked upside the head a few times.

The "Bethany" referenced above had posted the following months ago:
I didn't work last night, and thusly awoke at 3am, too tired to do much, and too awake to sleep. For some reason, while I was laying there staring at the ceiling, I began to envision a national survey with only two questions:

1) Do you believe that everything will work out okay?
2) Do you consider yourself more of a Democrat or a Republican?

I don't really know why, but I spent a good 45 minutes pondering if there would be any correlation between the answers to those two.

I don't know how it is for most people, but I realized that on the days that I am consumed with worry over everything from the funny smell in my car to world hunger, I am more likely to want a Democrat ballot. On the other hand, the days that I feel like things are pretty okay, I want to go Republican. I don't really know why that is, but I'm sure I'll be pondering it a lot more over the coming weeks. I was happy however, when I realized that this all meant that my pervading desire to vote for McCain probably means, for me at least, that things are pretty good here on the Western front.
I see these as related.

With the conventions coming up, you can expect a lot of sameness in the rhetoric. Both parties will warn that we are now on the precipice of falling into Bad America, but we have one last chance to choose Good America. They will both oversimplify both their opponent's positions and their own. But I think you will hear the themes listed above thrumming underneath the speeches, the soundbites, and the talking points.

I'm glad I don't have TV. You poor bastards.

The Coast Of Utopia

Last Friday I was given a number of plays by Tom Stoppard for Father's Day (Thanks, Ben). I just finished "The Coast of Utopia," Stoppard's most recent series of three plays about Russian radicals in the mid-19th C. They are all here: Mikhail Bakunin, Alexander Herzen, Nickolay Ogarev, Ivan Turgenev, all screwing up each other's lives and the lives of everyone they came in contact with; loving and hating each other, simply hating Marx, sacrificing the lives of family members (especially the unfortunate women who ran across their paths) to vast and contradictory causes.

Stoppard, who is Czech though he has lived his adult life in England, is unsparing and generally unsentimental about them. Their idealism does not capture him as it does more liberal writers in the West. Our literary and historical set sees them as noble but regrettably flawed, their bright dreams unfulfilled because of the sad ironies of life. Stoppard shows that their bright dreams were their flaws, and their starry ideals the cause of their misery. Only Herzen comes off well, forever true to an ideal of freedom and prosperity for the peasants, forever funding the unfree and violent schemes of the other radicals, forever a victim of those he sacrifices for.

I don't claim this is the single idea of this trilogy; Stoppard always keeps several balls in the air, smuggling the more serious ideas in under the humor. But nothing impresses so much in the plays as how petty and self-centered all these Great Hearts are. He sets us up to be fond of each, struggling tragically against the dark though bowed down by the oppressions of the world. We are drawn in, glimpsing the coasts of their utopias, but ultimately swinging wide as they destroy themselves and each other. They are not Shakespearean heroes with a single tragic flaw - they are thoroughgoing Flaws with a single tragic virtue. The destruction of millions that they wrought was a necessary consequence of their ideas, not an accident.

Character after character asks "What sort of Moloch is this that kills its children?", each surprised anew. They look to Rousseau, to Hegel, to Proudhon, and eventually to Marx for their answers. They sacrifice their children to their revolutionary ideals (often almost literally), which has its echo in the countries they feed into the maw of this dark god.

I should research what lessons the more marxist critics of literature and the theater have had to say about the three joined but separate plays "Voyage," "Shipwreck," and "Salvage." I already suspect they have missed the obvious.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Wrong Men

This report on research in Britain has been circulating the past few days, generating comment. It seems that going on the Pill can cause women to be attracted to less suitable men. Before we discuss the implications if it's true, lets start with some reasons to be skeptical. The actual research involved women smelling t-shirts worn in bed by different men.

Well, there's your first problem right there. Women signing up for shirt-smelling research may not be entirely representative of the general female population, eh? But let's pretend they worked around that somehow, and have found an intriguing lead that does generalise to the population as a whole. The upshot is that women on oral contraceptives are more attracted to men whose hormonal profile is more like theirs in a narrow area. This is bad, it seems, or at least not the way things used to be.

You will notice we are not anywhere near a study which measures mate happiness rates of Pill-using teens, newlyweds, and matrons versus the happiness rates of their sisters who use other contraception or none.

This is a plausible explanation, but we haven't nailed it down as fact.

Pretend it is. Pretend that messing with hormones in a Yasmin/Ortho-Novum sort of way causes women to go completely against their interests and latch passionately onto Unsuitable Attachments, or at a minimum, a different guy than they would have found otherwise.

Which is worse - to marry the wrong one or to go on the pill and lose interest in the right one after you've married him?

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Death Is Not The Worst Of Evils

Visitors and immigrants from other states snigger at the New Hampshire motto. I perceive their thought: Die is just so overdramatic, with more than a whiff of hunters and killing and all those icky gun people. These rubes think they live free even though they're just dumbass rural people with all their resistance to anything new. I mean, how free is that?

The full quote (pronounced quietly, thank you) is Live free or die. Death is not the worst of evils. Gen. John Stark wrote that when he was 81, the considered opinion of a citizen soldier who retired back to his farm after the Revolution.

It's a great motto.

Don't Plant A Tree

A nurse who worked on my unit was killed in a car accident. The staff has planted a tree in her honor. That is becoming more common, I think.

I like trees. A few years ago I developed one of my enthusiasms for odd subjects and learned to identify local trees and read up on them.

But don't plant a tree to commemorate me. If it lives, it proceeds on into the territory of descendants who could not care less. That chestnut was planted in honor of your great-grandfather... So what?

If it dies, it is one more wound for the survivors, one more great injustice of the world, ending with a whimper instead of a bang.

If you are a complete nobody, you are forgotten by all a year after your death. The beloved fare only a little better, I'm afraid. Twenty years after your death only a few close relatives with retain any memory, and those only occasionally. In a hundred years, those who are remembered will be recalled inaccurately. This world is not your home. Store up treasures in heaven.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Faux Pas Recognition

There is a faux pas recognition test used for diagnosing Autism Spectrum Disorders. No, really. And it's apparently pretty good. There is both a children's version and an adult version. They are interesting to read. Social situations are described, and the subject is asked if anyone said or did anything awkward. In some situations there is a faux pas, in others there is none. The diagnosis is not made from the True-False score, but from the questions based on the subject's response.
Developed by Simon Baron-Cohen (and others), autism expert at Trinity College in Oxford and author of popular books on the subject, Mindblindness and The Essential Difference: Mail and Female Brains and Autism, the test is slowly coming into use.

You wonder if you recognise the name? Yes, Simon is the cousin of comedian Sasha Baron-Cohen. The whole family seems to be rather accomplished. I think that the irony is amusing, and not quite accidental. Borat's psychologist cousin develops a diagnostic test based around faux pas. Very nice.

Be A Fireman

If you'd really like to work in a profession that protects the poor as well as the wealthy...

"I have no ambition in this world but one, and that is to be a firefighter The position may, in the eyes of some, appear to be a lowly one; but we who know the work which the firefighter has to do believe that his is a noble calling. There is an adage which says that, "Nothing can be destroyed except by fire." We strive to preserve from destruction the wealth of the world which is the product of the industry of men, necessary for the comfort of both the rich and the poor. We are defenders from fires of the art which has beautified the world, the product of the genius of men and the means of refinement of mankind. (But, above all; our proudest endeavor is to save lives of men-the work of God Himself. Under the impulse of such thoughts, the nobility of the occupation thrills us and stimulates us to deeds of daring, even at the supreme sacrifice. Such considerations may not strike the average mind, but they are sufficient to fill to the limit our ambition in life and to make us serve the general purpose of human society.” Edward Croker, NYFD chief 1910.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Sell All You Have

We attended a wedding yesterday which was boycotted by the bride's brother. He is furious that his ex-wife was one of the attendants and told his sister "You no longer have a brother." This type of drama queen behavior has been coming from him for several years now, worsening over the last two. This particular sister was the one he was closest to, who defended him longest, and even when he was at his most vindictive continued to visit and keep clear of the controversy.

His father is heartbroken, and keeps replaying old conversations in his head, hoping to find some slight thaw in his son's attitude, some ember that might be nursed into a flame. I fear that gradual softening may not provide the solution.

Jesus told the rich young ruler to sell all that he had. We usually think of this verse as cautionary that we do not become too attached to the riches of this world. We think of it as a general admonishment about wealth that applies to all of us somewhat, rather than a specific direction to a specific individual. But if we think of "all that we have" as a more general category than money and goods, we might find the command applies to all of us.

This young man's resentment is his greatest treasure, the one he has sold everything else to possess. We think of resentment as a burden, but many of us do treat it as a treasure. Our self-pity is our pearl of great price. This man will find no freedom in small gestures or middling attempts. He must sell it all and give it away to be free. It is a hard cost and a brutal price.

I have to wonder what my own greatest treasure is.

Broken Pipe Memorial

At the shore near the campground, two hunks of ceramic pipe were stuck into the ground, inscribed with black marker. One read July 27, 2008. The other was a typical marker children put out, words, numbers and little pictures imperfectly drawn. One of my children had rowed with his friends years ago to mark "Friendship Island" in a similar way and were pleased to follow up the next summer.

This particular marker looked more like a headstone, as when oversensitive children bury a turtle in a shoebox and dutifully note the date of its demise. More sadly, they commemorate a dead pet, not buried in that location, but remembered fondly.

The makeshift headstone must have tilted over in the torrential rain, and it was at an angle easier to read the next morning; a butterfly, a branch of some sort, and what might be a tree across the top. Then the large block capitals: MOMMY.

Lara S. Foster, July 25, 1975 - December 27, 2007, with four girl's names in a left column beneath it. It had originally read July 27, 1975 - December 27 07, but the first "7" had been crossed out and a "5" placed above it, and the "20" was squeezed in above the "07," the inscriber apparently going back over to improve her work.

A right column read

32 years old. Four daughters. The oldest, perhaps nine or so, had put in the names of her sisters, the last of which is likely quite young. At church camp the summer after her mother's death, a girl had wanted to create a memorial, and likely brought her sisters to see it. The next-most-likely scenario is that the daughter is with her grandparents at camp, and listed her sisters even though they were not present.

I don't have any problems in life. Really. Some people have real problems.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008


Reposted from October 2006

Congressman Foley resigned, as he should. Dr. Sanity discusses shame and guilt cultures in a post from last year, and I think the distinction between guilt and shame might apply here. Resigning from Congress could spring from either guilt or shame (or some of both), but I think other information suggests guilt.

My own personal soapbox on this is self-respect versus self-esteem. If our goal is self-esteem, then when we do evil things we are hopelessly lost. After having been caught making wildly inappropriate sexual comments to a 16 y/o, reliance on self-esteem would leave one forever wounded. But if your goal is self-respect you can at least make your next act honorable. If you have nothing else, you can at least reassert your ability to make some moral decisions correctly. It is in some ways more painful, because your ability to make a correct moral choice on Tuesday implies pretty strongly that you had that capability on Monday as well. But it is at least reality. You can salvage something. With self-esteem, you either have to accept that you have none, or start lying to yourself to get some.

Tangentially, I am always grateful for sins I'm not tempted to. I don't do so great with the ones I am tempted to, and I'd hate for that list to be longer. So I am hesitant to condemn in detail people who have done things I never could. I'm harder on those whose temptations I understand.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Can Christianity Cure OCD?

Can Christianity Cure Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: A Psychiatrist Explores the Role of Faith in Treatment, by Ian Osborn, MD.

Excellent book; terrible title. Exactly the sort of title I would pass by in a bookstore, and in fact did pass by when a friend sent a link to the volume two months ago. What are these people thinking? Don’t they know that Christians with OCD or other interior battles have seen such things a dozen times before, all containing cliché-ridden bad advice from people who just don’t get it? Hey Christian! Why not use that obsessiveness to memorize Scripture, eh? That’ll get Satan on the run! And while you’re at it, here are some short prayers that will allow you to claim victory in the Name of Jesus! All together on the chorus now:
Trust and obey, for there’s no other way…
I can’t tell you how much I have come to hate such people. They are not well-meaning – they are arrogant.

The Epilogue’s title might have been better for the book: “How Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Saved Christianity.” That has echoes of the popular books How The Irish Saved Civilization, and How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization. Such a title doesn’t hint at treatment, true, but most people with OCD would be curious and give it a look, even if they weren’t religious.

Ian Osborn gets it. He acknowledges how Christianity has sometimes caused or worsened OCD, and makes careful distinctions in what he advocates. He has been through it himself and now practices at an OCD clinic. He is up on the research; he sees connections between current brain science and the behavior of great figures in the church over the centuries.

In particular, he focuses on Martin Luther, John Bunyan, and Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower beloved of Roman Catholics. He illustrates from their autobiographical details how each had severe OCD, the terrible advice they often received from other Christians, and how their search for relief from their tormenting thoughts led each independently to a stunningly similar theology, despite their different religious traditions.

As these three would be a good start for anyone’s all-star team of the faith over the last 500 years, we do well to pay attention even if there were no modern connection. But when that theological solution accords with many of the recent advances in cognitive-behavioral treatment specific to OCD and the neurological glitches related to obsessions, we have some powerful stuff here.

I tried to read the book straight through, finding so many previously-unseen connections to my own OCD* that I sought eagerly for more. Yet time and again, I found myself staring out silently, preoccupied with following one of those thoughts through my own experience. As I finished the book, I turned back again to the beginning, this time with a highlighter. Perhaps if I had kept up with OCD research Osborn’s book might have been less arresting, but much was new, and stunning. Thought-action fusion: I had never heard of it but recognized it on sight. Inflated responsibility; add-on obsessions; fixed action patterns. I had known these since childhood and now knew their names. Obsessions and compulsions that had slipped away unnoticed when I went on fluoxetine two decades ago now waved cheerily back at me, stripped of their previous intimidation.

I suspect that non-Christians might also get significant benefit from the book, as might those who suffer from conditions similar to OCD, such as phobias or addictions. The language and concepts are not far off from what one would read in 12-Step literature, and parts of the treatment bear significant similarity to some Steps. I imagine that Osborn’s earlier book, Tormenting Thoughts and Secret Rituals would provide less barrier to a nonreligious person, and he writes approvingly of Jeffrey Schwartz’s Brain Lock, but I haven’t read those and can’t comment.

The Christian clichés come with meat on their bones here. Dr. Osborn emphasizes that trust in God is integral to the treatment, but he describes how that looks in the specific context of OCD. He uses the term “faith” but uses Martin Buber’s distinction between trust in someone and belief that something is true. Finally, you can reflect on where the church would have gone were it not for the corrective of these three giants of the faith and their tormenting obsessions.

*My Y-BOC score in the 1980's was 26. I now score a 14, which seems -heh- normal to me.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Never, Ever Talk To The Police

When I saw this video loading up at Maggie's Farm, I scoffed. Good people try to help the police in their investigations. Innocent people have nothing to fear. It's like helping people in trouble, picking up your litter, or giving directions to strangers. This law professor convinced me otherwise.

If that's not enough to convince you, Part Two is a police investigator who has done thousands of interviews. (Download time is long).

There is plenty of time to help the police with their investigation - after you have consulted with your attorney. The Fifth Amendment is there for a reason.


...went to Germany to discuss America's poor racial attitudes. People cheered. Back home, too.

Missing The Point On The Manny Trade

Update: I wrote this post before Jason Bay's first game with the Sox. Side note: sportswriters still don't get it, noting that Bay had "failed to put the ball in play" in his first five appearances. He had two walks and a hit-by-pitch. He was a baserunner four of the six times he came to the plate. Forget batting average. Ignore batting average. On-base-percentage and slugging percentage. (There are other useful stats, but that's where you should start.)

Prediction is difficult, especially about the future.

When statisticians claim that 80% of the variance in baseball is due to
chance, people leap to the ridiculous conclusion that they mean “baseball is 80% luck.” We all pretty readily conclude that we personally would get a hit off Josh Becket 0% of the time, and would strike out Albert Pujols 0% of the time, so we reject the notion immediately. It is this kind of misunderstanding that leads people to reject statistical analysis in general.

Well, actually, people reject statistical analysis because they don’t want to do any math more complicated than addition and subtraction, but they want a more elevated reason to tell other people.

Variance at the major-league level includes the important detail that you are starting from a pool of people who are the 1000 best in the world at this game. Because they all, even the worst of them, fill up the “skill” portion of the equation to almost 100%, the chance factor looms larger than it would in a pure situation.

Chance is why the better team can lose 11-3 in MLB. The NFL equivalent
score of a better team losing 42-14 never happens. There is chance and
luck in football, of course, but not to nearly the same degree. In baseball, Albert Pujols can hit 3 towering flies to the warning track and go 0-3; a guy you brought up from AAA for a week because of injuries can hit a bleeder through the infield and drive in the winning run. No one looks at that game’s box score and says “OMG, we’ve got to get that guy who outhit Pujols yesterday!”

Two rules of thumb for determining how much a sport’s variance depends on chance are a) how many games they play in a season and b) what percentage of games the championship team loses. These are not independent.

Superior skill in baseball shows over time. Over 162+ games, the slight skill advantage will gradually squeeze out the element of chance.

With that in mind, let’s look at the Ramirez trade. For this season, what is the expected outcome for the Red Sox in wins and losses? (We’ll turn to subsequent seasons in a moment). Sabermetricians usually estimate this in terms of runs. We can’t know in advance whether the runs player A creates will be in a situation that wins games, but we know that over time, creating more runs wins more ballgames. Manny has an Onbase Plus Slugging of .926. Bay has an OPS of .894. Over the remaining 50+ games, that would translate into an estimated 7 extra runs for the Red Sox with Manny in the lineup. That is a difference of 0.4 wins. In a pennant race, that may be significant. It can be the difference between going to the playoffs and going home.

But wait, there’s an extra wrinkle. Manny’s estimated extra runs are predicated on he and Bay having the same number of at-bats. Is that a reasonable assumption? Not at all. They might end up with an equal number of at-bats from here, but Bay has more AB at this point in the season for a good reason: Manny’s been hurt a little. Who is more likely to be hurt and miss games during the rest of the season? Manny, of course, and in Boston, those at-bats would likely be have been picked up by Ellsbury or Crisp. Their OPS for those 10-50 AB must be factored in to Ramirez’s total to get an accurate picture of the trade. The Red Sox have lost about a third of a win this season with this trade, on average. Chance factors make a range estimate more accurate. Boston may lose as many as three wins with the trade; they may gain as many as two wins. Throw in fielding and baserunning, and this is a nearly even trade. For this season.

Next season, they already have a guy under contract who is about 20 runs per season less good than Manny Ramirez, for one-third the price. Those extra millions will go a long way toward paying people you want to get or keep.

The Red Sox robbed the National League blind with this trade.