Sunday, April 30, 2023


We get irritated more quickly when we don't have control. We consider loud noises and bad smells more of a nuisance because unlike sights, tastes, and feeling, we can't get away from them as easily. We get angrier at a person playing music too loud or revving a truck or a motorcycle. It's not just the volume. I can't stand the sound of a vacuum cleaner or a leaf blower - when someone else is controlling when it goes on and off.  When I'm vacuuming the sound doesn't bother me at all.

It can be hard to be a passenger when someone else is doing the exploring at their whim and choosing the route. But when I've got the wheel, it's fun. Something of this comes into politics, where we are more tolerant of power being wielded by someone we perceive as "one of ours." This can be almost ridiculous when we look at it objectively, as our own kinsman or class member might be demanding much more of us, but we mind it less. And when the amount we pay or volunteer or put up with is entirely in our own control we can be quite generous and easy.

It's obvious as a general rule but we often don't perceive it in specific cases. It does cause me to wonder at how miserable most lives must have been, particularly in non-American places, until quite recently. Nearly everyone was under the command of someone else and had no say in what time the work started or what was for lunch or even who they would marry. We can travel where we will or choose our profession - not a universal privilege in history or even in the 21st C - but perhaps because we are so used to having control and having our own way we are easily upset when someone else puts their quarter in the jukebox and...hey, there's a song about that.

But it applies more generally, the jukebox angle was supposed to be just an entertaining small example.

Saturday, April 29, 2023

Nostalgia Destruction Tour

My three-year nostalgia tour has perhaps become more of a Nostalgia Destruction Tour with occasional highlights. I think I could manage it better with another try, especially the last year. 

After finding a restaurant halfway up 128 to take one of my sons out to dinner at, I thought it might be fun to go through Westford and Concord to Sudbury on the way to Natick, as the first three were places on our 6AM  Christmas morning trips when the boys were very small:  My Dad and his second wife lived in Westford, my Mum and her second husband in Sudbury, then eventually on to my wife's family in Scituate before going home again late that night.  A full day. Doing them all in one day became impossible when my mother and Ken retired to Wolfeboro. 

Westford was odd because my grandfather's farm is on what is now a private road (Do Not Enter.) Fortunately someone was exiting and I waved him down and identified myself. I knew two of his brothers and also his father Donny Greenwood, who was from two towns over in Nova Scotia from my grandfather. I was allowed to pass through.  I took pictures and talked to a neighbor, who I didn't remember.  I mentioned that a family named Morse had owned the place. He nodded that they had bought the place from Morse fifty years ago. He remembered my grandparents and the chicken coop and the sand pit, but things went south a bit when I mentioned that Gramma Helen was a difficult person. He looked genuinely offended. "Oh no, she was a wonderful person." Well, fine. She was the original cat lady plus a dog that bit, as in Thurber. Mildly crazy in important ways. But if she had been a good neighbor, then that's to her credit. Though it was looking like time to skedaddle. 

Heading south, I tried to cut back to Carlisle but also include the site of the original Dropkick Murphy's Sanitarium on my way but couldn't make it work, even slowing down and looking at the fields.  I lost more time and the rains started in, but I finally got back on my way just above Middlesex School, one of the St Grottlesex schools, and there was suddenly lots of traffic going into Concord. So I'm late.  I'm not recognising much along the way, which surprised me.  More on that at the end. Things went slowly all the way through Concord and down into North Sudbury, and still, I am only recognising very occasional landmarks. (This route puts you on the other side of the overrated Walden Pond of overrated HD Thoreau fame, which is fine by me.) By the time I made it to my old house, built by my parents in 1971 (across from a mink farm that smelled terrible but was on its way out) I was already overdue in Natick and not liking anything I was seeing. I took pictures and hoped no one saw me, whereas earlier in the day I had thought it might be nice to talk to the current residents.

I recognised one other house, nest door.  I went a few blocks over to an old GF's house and was mildly gratified that I at least recognised it on first try, but it was still raining and I got out of there after a very few moments as well. Goodnight House. I was now navigating through roads I had seldom traveled, in traffic and by memory. I was increasingly trying to contain my irritation.  But I did already have the beginnings of the idea that it is only people I am nostalgic about, not places.  Because I place my memories of people in a location I associate with them, such as an office or a house I had misled myself into thinking I cared about places. I don't.  I don't like Westford very much and I don't like Concord very much and I don't like Sudbury very much. Whatever I have been trying to find on my visits every second decade I now see is never going to be there.

Bright sun and rain were alternating so I'm switching sunglasses off and on and really worried I am going to be lost any moment now, when I came around a corner and saw a double rainbow.  I am not a fan of rainbows, but I am a fan of Double Rainbow Guy and I knew God was telling me to just calm down, chuckling at me. What does this mean? What does this mean indeed.  It means I have been a fool again, though mostly harmless. It is good not to take myself too seriously.

Children, what have we learned today?

15-Minute Cities

Also from ACX, A link to Data Secrets Lox discussing 15-Minute Cities, which is apparently gaining steam as an idea to implement in actual places, not just theorizing on the internet.  I had not heard of 15MC as a phrase before, but the concept of encouraging everyone to live in tight villages has been around a while. Liberals like it because it will reduce driving, social conservatives used to like it because it will encourage the informal bonds of communities, though I don't think I have been hearing that argument much in the last decade. There is also a link to Matt Yglesias on the topic. Yglesias remains quite liberal despite being increasingly ostracised for saying that conservatives have some understandable concerns and some actual good ideas.

Of particular interest to me in the DSL discussion is that once there was a large protest against the idea in Oxford, the proponents seemed to have had a shared plan to paint all of that as stemming from right-wing conspiracy theorists. I think that is likely to be successful with a substantial minority* of leftward thinkers, who are in the culture and politics game for social reasons and want to make sure they are not tainted by any unfashionable beliefs. It is one of those easy plans to accomplish as well.  there is no need for meetings or coordination, just get the word out that there is a fuzzy photograph of a right-wing conspiracist about in the woods and rumors of children by the score being eaten by a whole secretive tribe of them will spring up on its own. Links to the actual accusational stories are provided.

That this is an idea of charming romanticism but significant shortcomings, and is being rejected on those grounds will be covered up as much as possible.  No, no, you fool!  It's the right-wing conspiracists who are behind it all. The so-called rational opposition is all just a put-up job.

*More precisely, it will have 1%-100% success in persuading all of them, as even the most rational will be persuaded a little by the disquieting cognitive dissonance of holding the belief at all.

Adversarial Collaboration

Thanks to Astral Star Codex for picking up on this research. 

Really excellent adversarial collaboration between Daniel Kahneman and Matthew Killingsworth on the relationship between income and happiness. Kahneman previously found that more money didn’t make people happier past about $100K/year. Killingsworth previously found it did. They worked together and found that Kahneman was right for the least happy 20% of the population and Killingsworth was right for everyone else. This is a rare but welcome example of going from a failed replication to an actual understanding of what went wrong and what the truth is - well-written and highly-recommended.


When someone tells you they are a kind person, start the stopwatch for when they say something mean. Sometimes it literally is stopwatch material.

And you know something else as well. You know that they have no insight into themselves, no power of self-observation, so explaining things to them is going to be fraught with misunderstandings.

Thursday, April 27, 2023

Or Has Time Rewritten Every Line?

I meant to put this up in the memory posts because of one line in the song "Or has time rewritten every line?" But looking at it, The couplet "What's too painful to remember, We simply choose to forget" may be even more appropriate.  I think I believed the first line was from "You Don't Bring Me Flowers Anymore," actually. Such is memory.  Both were Streisand and in the 70s, and the subject and tone of both is the same. "Flowers" may be the better song, but Marvin Hamlisch seems to have understood what happens to memory very well, and captured it succinctly. Even the title captures that what is remembered is not quite what happened. The map is not the terrain. Paul Simon's "The Boxer" has a related line "Still a man hears what he wants to hear, and disregards the rest," which is not quite the same thing, but plays off the same brain function oddities.

Some of us believe those are where the fox is hiding. Which is also a myth, perhaps.

Light the corners of my mind
Misty water-colored memories
Of the way we were

Scattered pictures
Of the smiles we left behind
Smiles we gave to one another
For the way we were

Can it be that
It was all so simple then?
Or has time re-written every line?
If we had the chance to do it all again
Tell me, would we?
Could we?

May be beautiful and yet
What's too painful to remember
We simply choose to forget

So it's the laughter
We will remember
Whenever we remember
The way we were


In contemplating the post about malicious envy, and the desire of humans to punish those who are doing well, I thought at first how puzzling this was to me, because there have been very few people in my life I have wished would suffer punishment.  One who I did wish punishment on I ended up rescuing - twice - when others were punishing her in front of me, mostly with justification. Another time I let it happen, but these two seemed overdone, and I thought I would step in...

I am grateful for vices I am not tempted to, as CS Lewis noted about gambling and homosexuality. I don't do that well with the temptations that do cross my path, and sometimes think that such free passes are one of the meaning of "deliver us from evil." So I was feeling quite pleased with myself, yes sir, that at least I was free of malicious envy...

And the thought came to me, perhaps God's, "Well, what about people needing to be taken down a peg?  Got any of those?" A few came to mind instantly, and I suspect their name is legion. Some whole categories of person are beginning to form, and defining those will of course define something about myself. So I have some excavations to do.

One of the advantages of working in emergencies and under pressure is that the people who irritate you show up in high relief. (Not only including coworkers, but especially coworkers.) While I was bringing up my boys, I found that when young men who whined were admitted, I did not do well with them and would have to bring myself in check over and over dealing with them so that I did not lose my temper, however quietly and subtly. I don't they are so much of a category for me anymore. 

So that is where the fox is hiding at the moment: people who I think need to be taken down a peg. This is a place where the calculus might show that the area under the curve is actually larger than it would be under a couple of spikes.

Wednesday, April 26, 2023


Whenever I look through my own archives I find post after post I want to bring forward again.

I mentioned to Bsking and some of my children that I sometimes wonder if the 9000 posts should be curated in some way.  The strength of the blog is the real-time interaction, certainly, where even the odd and offhand things like Spider or ABBA or recursive history are not really separable from the whole conversation about memory and polygamy and how everyone else's thinking is in error. Still, there are things that will be lost beneath the waves, and I sigh a bit over that. What if?  What if?

She had a suggestion about one topic she still enjoys after many years, the Underground DSM.  I wondered if even cutting it all down to a thousand would be possible, and what would be the point of even that. Even I only read a half-dozen or so at a time, and you couldn't do it more than weekly, so a thousand would take...three years. Just to read, not to curate.  That would take ten times longer.

I look at how daunting a task it is and realise that there is no one another could do it even for love or gratitude. Only guilt can produce that type of obsession, in most cases, and I don't have anyone who has ever sinned against me so much that they owe it to me. 

Sometimes I tell people to just pick a month out of the archives every once in a while and browse those.  It's fun, and more than I deserve.

The Legendary Spider Osgood

Speaking of History: Brought forward from 2019

I don't think short-order cooks often get called "legendary."

I got a history of NH diners book for Christmas, and there is a short chapter on Spider. It's fun to watch someone hopping around to get the work done, and doing it accurately, whistling as he goes.

He had been a boxer when he was younger, and you can see it in his movements.

Relatedly, there is Vinnie's Pizzaria in Concord, NH. Vinnie was also a boxer when younger, and fairly successful.  The walls are covered with photos of old boxers with Vinnie, autographed by them, plus pictures and newspaper articles about Vinnie's own matches.  The place is also cluttered with politicians up here for the presidential primary every four years, all of them trying to show they are a man of the people.  I don't recall the female candidates giving it a try, but they probably should have. There are more women running this time around, but I haven't been by the place in two years, even though it's right down the street from work. I should make the effort, though we don't digest pizza like we used to - she because of wheat, I because of cheese.

Great looking place, though.

Lost To History

"People who have never read George Santayana are doomed to repeat one sentence of his and none other." I made that up. It's actually worse than his quote about people who don't know history being doomed to repeat it, though. Even the people who do know history are doomed to repeat it. They may even be worse, because the one's who don't know it have a certain refreshing random quality. We get some difference out of that. From what I read of current historians, they are great if they stick to narrow topics, but when the generalise, they say the same crap that everyone else at the conference is saying, however much they nearly come to blows about the details. A lot of it is complaining about how other historians aren't emphasising hamsters or cabbages enough. 

I read an account of an Inuit out in the villages near Nome, who was asked by a visitor about the burial ground, and how to identify who is where. Is it written down anywhere?  Could it be written down anywhere? The 70-year-old man was unconcerned. "I have it all in my head.  We don't need to write it down." But he had not taught it to anyone, what if he dies? "We have our stories to remind us, " he assured her, which what sounded to me like extreme arrogance. Tribes believe this, and there are legends about the enormous stores of knowledge that are held in collective memory, such as in Roots in Africa. These are mostly crap. Wherever they have ancestor worship and the name is important there is long memory, as in China (though not everywhere in China). But mostly there is only this proud assurance, which a fresh group of missionaries forty years later discovers is quite different from what they were assured was the True History of the Tribe as told to other missionaries, who carefully preserved it.

So, I thought about the old Inuit, you don't actually have a history, and the information of where people are buried will shortly be lost. Great.   

But maybe any story will do, right? Does it have to be a true story for the tribe to get by? Maybe it just needs to be a story. And maybe that is true for us as individuals as well.  I am quite obsessed with getting the story right, but does it do anyone any good, even me? I'd probably be happier if I believed some other story about myself than the one I know is true.

Maybe there is no history.


Brought forward from five years ago.

Groups complain that their contributions have been lost to history. That's usually not untrue.


Nearly everything is lost to history.  My family, your family.  My state, your state.  My nationalities, your nationalities.  My religion, your religion.  Is the history of Presbyterianism covered in US History in school? A lot of interesting things happened to the Portuguese, but are those remembered outside of Portugal, and maybe Brazil? Myths and rumors, mostly.  A few study hard and learn what they hope is the most important 1% of it.  In America, the Quakers and Congregationalists get in because of founding, then disappear.  Catholics and Jews get in because of immigration, then they disappear. Black people come in because of slavery and emancipation, then used to disappear.  There is an effort now to make sure their contributions, especially to music and modern politics, don't get overlooked.  Though even in the bad old days of my youth, when black history was supposedly suppressed, people knew the music part, and then the civil rights movement part.

People knew something of Native American history, but a lot of it was wrong. The history of Asian-Americans mostly fell beneath the waves.  The Irish, Greeks, and Italians have made a big deal about perpetuating their heritage.  They have put in much more effort than most other American groups, but in the end, it's mostly about food and old costumes now. The Scots in some places.  Scandinavians in the Midwest. In Canada they remember the French. A bit.

History went on for a lot of years, in a lot of places, no? Much of it was unremembered a week later, and nearly all of it was lost once the witnesses died.  If it wasn't written down, it was gone - and most of what was written down molders in obscurity also. We don't remember the history of women.  Well, women was not a general category of history until quite recently.  Females might think about "the women of my family or village," or a minority might think about a larger category such as "Jewish women" or "Russian women," but people just didn't think like that.  Not men either.

We remember wars, kings, exploration and trade goods. Even those fade quickly.  How far back can you name even presidents. Some fragments of songs, art, folk-religion get kept.

I have five children, of whom two will remember a great deal about me after I die.  Yet even that "great deal about me" is about 1% of what there is. Some things I never brought up. I think I hit most of the main points. The other three, some. I have four granddaughters, two far away.  When they are eighty the two near ones will remember the strangest things about me.  After that, rumors and myths.

If I get to be Mad Baggins in some way that will be far better than one in a thousand achieve.

This is why the focus on resentment of being lost to history is such a dangerous one. It leads people to focus on making history rather than on real people.

Spite and Malicious Envy

Lin & Bates at the University of Edinburgh have a 2021 paper showing that malicious envy has more explanatory power for predictors of support for economic redistribution than most concepts of fairness. As with most topics I don't follow closely, it seemed they were using only unfamiliar terms at first and I wasn't going to quite get it.  But if you just stick with it a few pages you will see what they are driving at. Most models predict that a belief in fairness should be a broad predictor of support for redistribution, especially coercive redistribution, and similarly that increases or decreases in that belief should be predictive of moves up and down a continuum. In fact, that had zero predictive ability. There were a few beliefs with some predictive usefulness, but the strongest was malicious envy. We want to punish those better off more than we want to help those who are less well-off.

It reminded me of Evolved Spite, and studies that show we act fairly ourselves more from fear of spiteful responses than out of compassion. Well, it least it wasn't zero this time. Also here.

The Hamilton they keep referring to is W.D.Hamilton, who looks like he was a very interesting guy and contributed key concepts to some distinct but closely-related fields.

Recursive History


Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Take A Chance

It has been years since I put up an ABBA video.  Those used to be standard here.  They came out just as I was getting away from popular music and I didn't like them.  Made fun of them.  Came to like them.

Flamingoes were big around here in the early years, especially the authentic Don Featherstone type. Meerkats figured prominently for a few years as comic relief. I started as a psychblogger, and put out my Underground DSM right from the beginning. You pick up things that aren't in the textbooks if you just pay attention. I also carried news from Romania fairly often, but even I'm not interested in it anymore.

Memory and Trauma

I will give a description that is only partly accurate but I think helps separate concepts pretty well. It is some cross between an analogy of what is happening in memory and what is physically happening. Imagine that emotional memory and event memory are completely separate and independent. You can think of it as video and audio for a film, or text and illustration in a book. They can be related, and mostly are related, but they don't have to be. They are stored in different parts of the brain, though often with plenty of overlap. Yet what if the audio was noise? The sound of a car crash when the guy kisses the girl in a movie? How would that get stored?  How would the brain put that together?

It might not put it together, which is part of why traumatic memories are unreliable, even when they are about indisputably real things.

Years ago I went out in my slippers in winter to the head of the driveway to adjust the trash barrels for pickup. I slipped and slammed my foot against a big chunk of ice, pulling the big toenail mostly off. I still wince from my right big toe all the way up my leg and even up my spine when I think of it.  Small wonder, as it has never been quite right ever since. That toenail came mostly off and a new one grew in - sort of. That eventually grew out and another came in, looking very strange. This is the sixth toenail now, and it looks almost normal. But you can see how that wincing is a sort of mild PTSD, and a person who had been beaten as a child or suffered repeated injury could find themselves wincing frequently, enough to start interfering with functioning. 

So now I will mention. It's actually the left big toe that was injured.  There's no question of that, you can look at the toenail and see, even years later, that it's not right. Yet when I think of the incident, my brain tells me it was the right toe that was injured. Somehow the message got scrambled and stored improperly. Trauma does that.  It's not linear.

Worse, when trauma has scrambled lots of your memories, you can get triggered - those are quite real - and be delivered into an inaccurate memory because it looked a lot like a previous one and your brain has traveled that route umpteen times.  There are ruts in that road, your pickup just goes there more easily.  It would take a conscious effort to override the ruts. 

This has been an enormous problem in trying to prosecute child abusers and molesters. The memories of the victims are unreliable and thus weakened in court. Sometimes there are childhood ER records or photos someone took or other witnesses, but other times - the child, now grown, can be made to look like a liar, or at least inaccurate, on the witness stand.  The perp goes free. Intense memory being what it is, it's doubly infuriating for the victim, who has vivid memories of the event and sometimes will not help the prosecution because they refuse to back down from what they are absolutely sure is true. 

There is a subtler way that memory can go wrong. I have mentioned before, and it is becoming more widely known, that even though those of us who grew up with movies and TV automatically think of our memories as something like a film record, they are actually more like a computer (or graphing calculator) that reconstructs the memory from scratch each time, based on the previous times we have remembered it, especially the most recent. When we are done thinking about it we put it back in storage, where it lies unchanged.  But while it is out and active, all bets are off. Things can get added in, things can drop out. Sometimes this is rather random, not according to any narrative direction from other parts of the brain. But for important memories that keep getting brought back, they get gradually adjusted to fit the story.  The story can be very general: my sisters have always betrayed me. Or Men in STEM think women aren't quite as good. Narratives like that can have good supporting evidence. Contrary evidence might be acknowledged at first, especially if someone draws attention to it. Well, Meg did help you pay for a lawyer. Or But your first academic advisor said you were the best student he'd ever had. Yet without that help, there is not even any need for you to actively suppress the contrary information.  You'll just do it naturally. 

Consider, for example, when you get angry at someone and start rehearsing what trespasses they have trespassed against you. If you don't watch yourself - if you don't take active steps to try and make sure you have got the story right - you will have already shuffled the list of what they have actually done within a half hour, never mind a decade. Every incident you remember, at least at first, will be true. Nobody has to suggest a false memory to you. (Though if they do you might be too easily primed for it.) 

You may remember exercises they gave in psychology or sociology classes, in which people are described, but slightly differently to everyone, then they decide who is going to get to stay on the island. The black drug addict turns out to be a doctor addicted to pain medication but sober the last two years. The unmarried mother of three turns out to be the widow of a police officer killed in the line of duty.  It's supposed to show us all how ignorant and prejudiced we are. But it is valuable in showing that we really do see things differently when key bits of information are missing. 

So when you and your sister remember borrowing each other's clothes without permission, and she remembers (correctly) that you did that a lot more often, while you remember (correctly) that she once damaged an expensive sweater of yours and never replaced it, and neither of you remember your own fault, it's going to look different fast.

False memories?  Well, you've been unhappy for the last year and don't know why.  A therapist makes a guess and suggests that you seem like other patients she has had who were molested. Huh. Maybe that's it. I mean, that would explain... and you are off and running. It does seem dreadfully unfair that victims who desperately need justice can get it. Yet when you recall that in almost no times and places in history have victims ever had much recourse, you can see why memory is not much advantage. Remember that you shouldn't get yourself into situations like X.  Remember that those guys are violent. It's better to forget the details. Son #3, the older Romanian, has been actually comical in what he has forgotten about his traumatic past. In his first year in America he was in one of those youth group exercises about privilege. If someone made your dinner for you last night, take one step forward.  If you live with both your parents at the same time, take two steps forward. He was near the front of the room! His new brother was actually a few steps in back of him! Then he laughed. "Oh, you mean ever in my life! I belong way back there!" and he went there laughing.The other Romanian called him a few months ago to let him know their aunt in Oradea had died. "Wait. We had an aunt in Romania?" His mother's sister, who brought up his sister. Forgotten.

I used to tell patients in the 1980s - and it was unpopular I got in minor trouble a couple of times - "If you were lucky enough to forget it the first time, don't go looking for it now."  Exploratory therapy, which used to be the norm, is potentially catastrophic.

Monday, April 24, 2023

Ghost Riders In The Sky

A fine, ethereal quality to the chorus that I think works better than other interpretaions

Sex and the iWorld

Almost fifteen years ago now my friend Dale Kuehne, a poli-sci professor at St Anselm College published a book Sex and the iWorld: Rethinking Relationship Beyond an Age of Individualism. I mentioned it at the time and have linked to it occasionally since. It includes points that would likely not be regarded as trans-friendly, I recall, and indeed it is a central point that never before have individuals had such a radical ability to define their sexuality without reference to some larger community:* Family, village, neighborhood, church, or less concrete ideas like culture or tradition or reason

This morning I was notified that an old post from 2010, part of my series describing the adoption of the boys from Romania, start to finish, had been flagged and removed, with the explanation given that it violated policies about malware and viruses. I looked at the comments - no spam.  I looked at my own HTML and saw nothing that could lead one to dangerous sites. I did see the footnote referring to Dale, who was on one of my wife's Romania trips, and his book. I wondered it that was the real problem and removed the reference and submitted it.  It was instantly reinstated.

I didn't run the experiment properly.  I might have been able to be reinstated anyway, perhaps by changing a letter "to show that I had addressed the problem." I doubt I will know now. But it is suggestive, isn't it.  The two main things that seem to be flagged are trans/queer issues (less often gay or lesbian, or maybe even not at all), and posts or groups that are speaking directly against the power and legitimacy of the various federal governments, rather than radical or forbidden ideas about any specific policies or government actions. Nor do those seem to be thoroughgoing, scorched-earth eliminations of such things.  Just one more inconvenience for a small blogger from NH.

So perhaps this is how it will be. It's easier just to leave it that way and move on. But fast-forward ten years, and is Dale made that much more invisible on a long quiet road? His book is still available, after all.  He hasn't been fired. This may be more of that ninja censorship I just read about and linked to. Or maybe I'm just being crazy and overreactive, making myself paranoid for no reason. That could also be a ninja strategy, though, making me question my own reasoning and asking myself if the problem is mine. "Live Not By Lies" is important, but what if the lies are my own?

So I decided to double-down and feature the book again. Next I'll go back and link to the book again in the original post. We'll see.

Sunday, April 23, 2023

What Did You Do? Part 3

I should be careful not to give the impression that my memory is nearly flawless. I have some spectacular individual failures, and in general am not even in the same league with my wife in terms of the people who come to visit at church - or even have been there a few years - and their children, illnesses, and prayer requests. I should remember but I don't.  I remember my third-grade class much better.

But certain types of memory served me well at work.  When You are dialing the same 20 phone numbers and 20 fax numbers for 20 years I just don't understand why you don't just memorise them.  But people liked writing them on a list or putting them on speed dial.  I got so I just knew most of the zip codes in NH.  It just saves a minute over and over again through the week. There were plenty of other numbers, including repeat patient's medical record numbers , dates of admission, and dates of birth. Similarly, I wouldn't remember patients so much by their history or their appearance, but by their addresses. Agency addresses were also useful, as we had to mail things out or record appointments on discharge paperwork. That's more than a little weird, but it worked a treat. Diagnostic codes, standard medications dosages, and the names and phone numbers of current caseload family members, bosses, or landlords were used all the time.  When you work in a hospital, there's just acres of stuff it's easier to just know than to keep looking up. To me that's not using brain space but saving it, because it was mostly automatic.

A few times it was useful to remember place of birth and parent's names when someone had tried to take on a new identity.

Yet that is mostly just a curiosity. The real use of memory was in patient history, and because I would have the historical chart, I got to check my accuracy constantly. Yep. Married to Marjorie 1974-82, we had her as a patient twice as well, once during the marriage and once much later. It wasn't only shortcut for getting up to speed, it was also a very quick check on who was trying to fool us and who was being honest but just unreliable. Sometimes we would have a sibling who didn't know their older sister had been at our hospital, giving us a different perspective on the family of origin. It teaches you something, especially when the information is quite different and you have to sort out whether it is error or deception or both.  I would have constant recheck because of the physical record, kept for years until it was all "simplified" around 2010, with only selected documents kept.  There were others as good as I was on this score, and it was good to become aware of the type of thing I would get wrong.  I would tend to shorten time, thinking we had had a patient at our hospital five years ago when it was actually nine.  Sometimes worse. I would remember legal charges precisely, but be wildly off on sentences. 

I mentioned previously that when I see old friends they get a kick out of what I remember: You went to nationals in fencing senior year and hoped you might finish in the top three.  But you partied and were hung over and finished sixth. (If that sounds like I'm kicking my friend for screwing up, rest assured he was tickled that I remembered that he fenced at all, and certainly that he went to nationals. We had hundreds of lab theater and acting class plays over my four years, and I remembered a lot of who played what roles.

If this seems like bragging, understand that it is more like being defensive.  I have had a couple of serious differences in the last few years, and it would be a legitimate challenge: Everyone's memory changes things a bit, why should I believe that yours is more accurate? Very occasionally I have some sort of written corroboration but usually it could just be a standoff. I told my granddaughter about the email exchange with an ex-GF who said we had "just drifted apart" but I recalled a moderately dramatic set of events. She got a kick out of that, as I hoped a fifteen-year-old would. As I have mentioned, I do know a few who are as good as I am or better, and I love to have them around. Iron sharpens iron and all that. Sometimes one new fact will open up whole avenues of memory, as it explains things that had been puzzling and just hanging out in the wind.

It should be fun going forward.  I just got Daniel Schacter's Seven Sins of Memory for my birthday (oh right.  I also remember birthdays, though that is uneven.) I may be about to find out that my understanding of memory is flat wrong.  We'll see.


 "...As I've written elsewhere, the the right-wing are censorship vikings and the left wing are censorship ninjas." Author Sherman Alexie. That seems very much like what I have seen in nearly fifty years of being a librarian's husband (both city and school).

The full quote:

My YA novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is one of the most challenged and banned books of the last 20 years. According to the American Library Association, my book was the most banned and challenged book in the United States 2010-2019. (AVI note.  It has a paragraph about masturbation in it, which seems to be the main trouble.) So I have more personal experience with the right-wing's vilification of books and writers than just about everybody.  But I'm also highly aware of the way the left censors and silences writers.  And a lot of this silencing and censoring happens before a book is even published, with sensitivity readers who demand changes based on ever-shifting moral standards and definitions of "triggers" and, more dangerously, by creating an environment where writers silence and censor themselves because they fear professional and personal excommunication. As I've written elsewhere, the right wing are censorship vikings and the left wing are censorship ninjas.


Inspired by a post by James (with excellent links). My memory is set on "random association" most of the time.

My mother used to sing scraps of this, mostly enjoying the "That's nobody's business but the Turks" part. She was also on random association with her memory much of the time, and had a Greek-American boyfriend after her divroce and before her second marriage. He, in turn, had a father who was from a Dodecanese Island that had been owned sometimes by the Greeks, sometimes the Turks. When his wife would get upset at him and start throwing objects she would call him a Turk, and Bob related this story (all to frequently, I fear) to my mother it likely suggested the line to her. Neither Istanbul nor Constantinople came up in family conversation much otherwise, I don't recall. 

I got together with that boyfriend, who thought of marrying my mother at one point, when he was quite old and I mentioned the story. He laughed and agreed that the story was correct.  He was amazed that I remembered, as people often are, as will come up in the next memory post.

Leaving The Gym

Talking with an MD friend at church this morning, we agreed that at my age, the goal should be walking out of the gym uninjured every time.  Any injury disrupts further fitness strategies enough to set one back days , weeks, or maybe even months.

It's good for keeping focus and not getting greedy or cocky in there. My goal is to walk out of this room uninjured.

Saturday, April 22, 2023

The Song of the Strange Ascetic

Sent over the transom by commenter Earl Wajenberg, a sci-fi writer who comes to pub night on Thursdays betimes.  This fondness and understanding for pagans as something far more than mere unbelievers and in much better spiritual shape than modern cynical, humanist skeptics resonated much with CS Lewis, who expressed similar sentiments

The Song of the Strange Ascetic

by G. K. Chesterton

If I had been a Heathen,
I'd have praised the purple vine,
My slaves should dig the vineyards,
And I would drink the wine.
But Higgins is a Heathen,
And his slaves grow lean and grey,
That he may drink some tepid milk
Exactly twice a day.

If I had been a Heathen,
I'd have crowned Neaera's curls,
And filled my life with love affairs,
My house with dancing girls;
But Higgins is a Heathen,
And to lecture rooms is forced,
Where his aunts, who are not married,
Demand to be divorced.

If I had been a Heathen,
I'd have sent my armies forth,
And dragged behind my chariots
The Chieftains of the North.
But Higgins is a Heathen,
And he drives the dreary quill,
To lend the poor that funny cash
That makes them poorer still.

If I had been a Heathen,
I'd have piled my pyre on high,
And in a great red whirlwind
Gone roaring to the sky;
But Higgins is a Heathen,
And a richer man than I:
And they put him in an oven,
Just as if he were a pie.

Now who that runs can read it,
The riddle that I write,
Of why this poor old sinner,
Should sin without delight-
But I, I cannot read it
(Although I run and run),
Of them that do not have the faith,
And will not have the fun.

In his modern fantasy American Gods, Neil Gaiman has Mr. Wednesday (really Odin) encounter a modern neo-pagan who lectures at him some about vegetarianism and defying the patriarchy etc. and is quite the modern puritan.  Odin then remarks to his mortal assistant (our viewpoint character), “There is one who does not have the faith and will not have the fun.”

Capital Punishment in Canada

 Nine inmates in Canada have elected to use medical assistance in dying. Some felt it part of their duty to own their debt to society was to free up space, essentially. Gee, I can't see any potential for abuse of a government having no incentive to make a person's life bearable if they thought it would be more convenient if they died, can you? Well, we don't care because they are prisoners and a lot of people wish they could be executed or at least not given the least comfort. But as Lyman Stone says "It's capital punishment by another name." We won't have the cleanness and courage of executing them and owning it.  We sneak it in by a back door, where we can look away and pretend we had nothing to do with it. No, no, no, it was their choice. You want this, don't you Jasper?  You said so just yesterday at group therapy, didn't you? 

It all sounds so sensible, doesn't it? Just like in The Giver.

"You wouldn't want us to waste all that money looking after you in your last years, would you?  Think of all the good that could be done with that money!" That is much of how I fear it will play out in families as well, because grandparents want their children and grandchildren to not be burdened.  They want the granddaughters to be able to go to college. It's so easy to think of it as generous - and in one way it is, whatever selfishness lies underneath it in teaching said granddaughters what their worth is dependent on going forward. But families at least might have some barriers within, or eventually, at least noticeable in looking at other families where this value is common and contemplating how that seems to be working out for that subculture. Though the less family you have (in any sense) the less barrier, I suppose.  Something else that may be following the depressed birthrates.

But for government to provide the service is communicating at some deep level "The tribal elders have decided that your life no longer has value. You mean nothing to us now. Produce food of be food."

As one of my sons observed, it's pretty sad when human beings cannot observe Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics.

Bsking mentions a book Resisting Throwaway Culture: How a Consistent Life Ethic Can Unite a Fractured People. She notes that the reviews of the book all seem to disagree with (different) parts but still find it compelling. I can only say it looks interesting from here.

Sins of Commission, Sins of Omission

I have written on this as recently as two years ago, but it bears repeating, because I don't think it is as noticed as it should be.  Perhaps your church community is different, but I seldom hear about this in mine.

We tend toward one or the other, I fear.  I tend more to sins of commission and annoying  the heck out of people.  My wife seldom has any sins of commission, save for interrupting her husband in his well-crafted and highly entertaining sentences. The difficulty is that we tend to judge our own style less harshly, but the style others more stringently. I will guess that there is a similar trend between males and females generally. Lewis speaks about it in Screwtape XXVI, “A woman means by Unselfishness chiefly taking trouble for others; a man means not giving trouble to others. As a result, a woman who is quite far gone in the Enemy’s service will make a nuisance of herself on a larger scale than any man except those whom Our Father has dominated completely; and, conversely, a man will live long in the Enemy’s camp before he undertakes as much spontaneous work to please others as a quite ordinary woman may do every day. Thus while the woman thinks of doing good offices and the man of respecting other people’s rights, each sex, without any obvious unreason, can and does regard the other as radically selfish.” Remember that even this is perhaps the wishful thinking of Hell that the stereotype is that simple, however. There are role reversals and surprises everywhere.

The Congregationalist (now UCC) church I grew up in had heavy stress on mentioning sins of omission by the time I went to Confirmation in 7th-8th grade in the mid-60s, likely because they wanted to stress social gospel issues. Other denominations stress sins of commission much more: No drinkin', no smokin', no dancin', no pinchin' the girls under their dresses. Then those sins get mentioned as things you used to do when it comes time to give your testimony.

So if you are in a church which uses this or similar wording, or use the Confiteor yourself in some private context, think next time that when you are thinking about your own sins in "...we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves..." that some generosity might be given to others when you are forgiving them as well. They might have a much stronger horror about committing sins against you than about leaving things undone that they might have done for you or the other way around, and this is particularly likely if they are of the opposite sex.

Friday, April 21, 2023


This, this is what alcohol and nationalism are for, and even his opponents see and applaud it.

Let me mention in passing that while marijuana is likely far less damaging (if you don't start until after age 25) to yourself and society, you don't get magnificent things like this.

Monday, April 17, 2023


Kenyans won both the men's and women's Boston Marathon again. I always feel vindicated when they do, having been an early-understander of the genetic reality.

So...there's nothing genetic about their oxygen processing at elevation or their narrow calves and ankles.  It's because of their culture, raiding for cattle in the mountains and needing to run very fast to get home with them.  To say otherwise would be racist, even though none of these runners have been raiding cattle for a couple of generations now.

To those who protest that this is a ridiculous exaggeration on my part, and reasonable people of course recognise a genetic component to their dominance from the 1500 meter races on up, remember that I vividly recall a time when we were not even allowed to say even that, and discussion of fast-twitch vs slow-twitch muscle fibers was tantamount to being a Nazi eugenicist, practically Hitler. 

I would be much happier entering nature-nurture discussions if the nurture advocates could be at least minimally honest about themselves, never mind about the data.

An Interlude

 Ronaldus Magnus*

*Where's that from? (Quiz)

What Did You Do? Part Two

When I started working at the hospital, it was in an entry-level, not-very glamorous position, working directly with patients for eight hours straight, under the direction of others with little opportunity for independent thought. As these things go, however, there turned out to be ample opportunity for independent thought, as there was never enough staff and supervisors had to be in many places at once, so unit staff had to figure out constantly-changing situations on our own. 

People write excellent memoirs of starting out at such jobs all the time, of the various dysfunctional coworkers who were hard cases, or undisciplined and directionless, or simply not that bright, interspersed with a few who were of surprising Christian character and ultimately inspiring. The supervisors and powerful people were likewise abusive, stupid, and jaded, except for the few who taught them some Important Lesson which they have never forgotten. This was like that, yes. It was that sort of job, like being a waiter in a bad restaurant or low man in some construction of assembly position. 

I have always been of two minds, or more likely five or six minds, as to whether this was good for my character or destructive to it. I was not all that good at it.

It was already clear from school, and testing, and conversation that I had a much greater capacity for memory than other people, but if you had asked me how that helped in my current job it would have taken me a moment. We would have long strings of directions of what had to be accomplished for each patient every day and I would not have to keep going back and looking those up, nor would I need to enter the data quickly. It saved time. I was efficient. I was learning by curiosity about the various diagnoses and treatments, but also the specific patients and their legal or early histories and how those impacted treatment. It was important to know that some patients could not ever leave grounds or had some pending hearing that might be destabilising to them, or that others did not like to be approached in particular ways or by people with certain characteristics, because of trauma received at the hands of others years ago.  

I had a good working knowledge of what being triggered was long before we were using that term. The physically and sexually abused showed a spectrum of responses, from subtle to explosive. Marie has been upset all morning. "Oh, Maurice worked down here last night and he's black. She was raped by two black men as a girl and is still afraid of all of them." The vaudeville shtick of a Rave-Off, a phrase that sends someone over the edge like "Niagara Falls," has a real base to it. Such knowledge was like gold to unit staff, learning to avoid setting someone off. At the time, and indeed for years later, we took it for granted that these PTSD responses would be based off accurate information, because how could they not be?  The person was responding to A Memory, which we conceived as some kind of video clip in the brain that would get bumped into and activated on some screen of consciousness. It was not until I got to the neuropsych part of my career, well after the false memory and satanic ritual abuse scandals, that I learned that this was an imperfect and unreliable way of looking at traumatic memory.

I in fact chose Marie as my example above for that reason. She was discharged and readmitted a few times, and once came to my caseload fifteen years into my career, when she stayed long enough that I was expected to write a very comprehensive history of her life. We don't do that anymore, but at the time we were expected to go through all earlier charts, hundreds and hundreds of pages and write a paragraph about education, and religion, and siblings or a dozen other things, including sexual and trauma histories. There was mention of her being raped just before her first admission at age nine, but no identification of race of the perpetrators. In New Hampshire in 1948, it would have been mentioned if they were black. I thought it odd. Her mother was still alive and I took here aside when she visited. She remembered me working with Marie before. It turns out the attackers were not black, they were eventually revealed to be her cousins, who came at night and tried to cover their faces. But Marie was also developmentally delayed and had told herself they were black men, and responded badly to black men forever after. I eventually learned that one does not have to be DD to make that sort of error.  In fact, I have a personal opinion that very bright people might make more errors in traumatic memory.

But I am ahead of myself here. I was supposed to be talking about powers of memory and how they affected my job. I honestly was only great with certain categories of patient and lost my temper with others far too frequently. But I got along great with staff of all status. Those who looked down on psych techs took longer than those who resented the college-educated to warm up to me, but I was determined not to be excluded from anywhere since I was in elementary school, so I managed. The people who had never had educational opportunity but had picked up things along the way were my eventual favorites to work with. Just before I got a small promotion out of that type of work, one of them said "I enjoy watching how long it takes people to figure out you're smarter than they are." Fun to hear, but I always thought there were lots of people smarter than me, at least in some ways. But because I was easy to slot in I got moved around to trouble spots and learned the backgrounds of a very large percentage of the patients. That bank of knowledge was already becoming useful to me, and I was looking at "what is a good memory" in different ways.

Sunday, April 16, 2023

Gambling Problem?

A sports podcast I listen to now that it's the playoffs has ads for an online gambling site. As with many types of medications or purchases of precious metals, there are apparently regulations requiring that side effects - in this case gambling problems - be mentioned every time, with directions what one can do about that in various states. I can't imagine anyone is paying attention to this rapid-fire boilerplate with toll-free numbers, but they must have to say it. It seems a classic example of a government idea that arises from some good impulse but is essentially useless, annoying, and expensive.

Saturday, April 15, 2023

Gun Control Again

Just to repeat myself, as I do about every six months. The brouhaha in Tennessee looks different when you know the real story about gun control.  To be clear, I support the right of people to protest and say any damn fool thing about gun restricting they want even if they are legislators and inciting crowds. (Though that may have some limits. It's hard to believe people are that concerned about public safety when... never mind.  You either understand this or you don't.)

There is zero evidence that the gun legislation they want to enact does anything worthwhile whatsoever. Zero. When you tell people that - and I have heard psychologists, and social workers, and whatever interact with this data time and time again, for decades - they don't believe you.  They think whatever real-world data you are citing must be just some isolated statistic, some anomaly, and you don't really understand that they are talking about if we could just make it harder for criminals...if we could just make people stop and think for a day or two...if America could just get over its love-affair with guns...all of this would FINALLY start going away. I will simply state again that none of the "common sense gun legislation" proposals actually are commonsensical. What they mean, in the end, is that they want to restrict a right for no reason whatsoever, just feelz. 

So I hope you understand, just a bit, why the gun rights people are a little touchy, maybe even too touchy on the subject.  They believe you aren't really thinking about the issue and they don't trust you. Further note, as I always say: I am not a gun owner.  I have no dog in this fight except reason.

Friday, April 14, 2023


 The Republican Nomination is not supposed to be an award for the person most badly-treated by the Democrats.

Disease Resistance

After a few more studies that have piled up in my inbox that have to do with mixing of populations, let me propose a general rule.  When one population has pretty much outcompeted another, so that there are no more Denisovans/Neandertals/Western Hunter-Gatherers or most of the high-altitude populations but their markers keep showing up at rates of 5% or so, this is nearly always because of disease - malaria, local viruses in Europe or South America - or multiple responses to single environmental pressures like altitude or cold.

So when you see science stories about "they're gone now, but they left some genes behind," those are often going to be disease resistance. These days anthropologists, and especially science writers are going to hit hard on the fact that you are a racist person for not recognising that you have these genes in you, but that is "just the bull elephant trumpeting to the herd," as Garrison Keillor said years ago. They have to say that.

Update:  Oh right.  And they are also obligated to point out that these Others had more complicated cultures, tool sets, diets, economies, and satellite dishes than you thought, you racist, because you likely still thought that "Indians" say "How, paleface."

Land Snails

I love this about eating the land snails. "Humankind only survived by eating stuff like this without regard to whether it was good for the snails, but we hope to protect a maybe similar species now by drawing attention to them."

What Did You Do? - Part One

I have been thinking about memory a great deal, including the limitations and inaccuracies. The simplest aspects I came across early. I gradually absorbed the reality that I remembered things much better than other people.  All kinds of things: school quiz items, stray facts in books, backs of cereal boxes, events that had happened, people I had not seen in years.Yet at no time did I think I was at some magical or unearthly level.  I would read about those children who could remember long strings of digits or watch those performers on TV who could glance at a half-dozen one-dollar bills for a second each and then add them all up and be as amazed as anyone, or even more. I also saw that while it was very often associated with high intelligence, there were exceptions in both directions - other smart kids who had things fade from memory quickly, or kids who were not notably academic who remembered past events at my level or better.

Games and puzzles provided dramatic illustrations. We had games in fifth grade that the teacher discontinued because I always won and it was no fun for everyone else. Other games, and legitimately cognitive/academic ones, I was only mildly good at, and that mostly from compensating for lack of the needed skill bringing in others. A few were just opaque to me. 12? -2i? x to the 4th? Bolivia?

It took a long time for me to notice that it was often the types of information. Some had an ability to remember many types of things, others mostly remembered events or people. There were kids at camp who remembered what counselors and campers had been in every cabin four years ago, and who had won awards that year. There were girls who learned and knew song lyrics - and they were always spot on for the tunes as well. I noticed things that seemed different about my own memory first, then tried to spot others and develop theories about it. I could do mental arithmetic almost automatically if it was auditory, and could recognise people by their movement from yards away, even years later. But I would sometimes freeze up with numbers on a page if someone else had written them or would stare straight into the face of a person I knew well and be unsure who they were even though I was sure I knew them.

In retrospect, becoming a research psychologist studying memory is one of the several professions I missed going for. When people are spinning theories, it is an advantage to know that some explanations cannot be universal because you yourself, or one of your relatives or closest friends is an exception, and also that some unlikely things are possible, because you have examples ready to hand.

A whole new world up for me when I started working on psych units. I found patients who remembered remote events in startling detail (usually manic at the time), and others who reported events so incorrectly, so quickly that the automatic assumption was that they had to be lying. I later encountered a few who would restructure memories within minutes. To not recall what has just been said to you is a bit of a surprise, but we all do it via inattention. But to remember it, but change or even reverse its meaning was amazing to me.  Frankly, it still is.  I intellectually know that such things occur, and I have seen it, but it still seems just impossible. It is most frequent when the emotional content overwhelms the intellectual so completely that it overrules it. "I wasn't really suicidal this morning, I just said that because I wanted attention." No, you actually tried to hang yourself and might have succeeded if you hadn't been on (clandestine, for exactly that reason) 15-minute checks. But now your boyfriend is here by surprise and you want to have unsupervised visits. And they are absolutely serious and honest. They uncertainly acknowledge that there are still marks on their neck, but that is somehow...unimportant...and we should believe them that they are safe.  How can we not take their word for it?

Hmm. I haven't even gotten going yet and this is already 5.5 paragraphs long.  I had better go back and enter "Part One" in the title and let people get started on the issue in general before coming back to finish this.

Thursday, April 13, 2023

Opposite Effect

As one goes through the little room to hang up jackets on the way to the weight room at the Y, there is a little sign in gentle script "You Are Worthy. You Are Beautiful. You Are Enough." Really?  All of us?  Are you sure?  How do you know this - you've never even met me! Does anyone look at that and suddenly think "Oh yes! I AM beautiful! Thank you for reminding me, I so much needed to hear that!" I wrote about the uselessness of generic encouragement a few posts ago, but I think this is even a little worse than that.

Clearly, they mean well.  They want to improve your self-esteem today or something.  It is the sort of thing that the people who put up these little signs say when they are leading your exercise class. (My wife is getting into online walking and balance classes, so I have these cheery, chirpy voices in the background a fair bit these day. They're fine. Nice ladies.) Guys in gyms have a different litany of encouragement, with more football coach/drill officer to it. "YOU CAN DO THIS SAMUEL! PUSH IT!" Those are both better, I think, because they are tied to something you are doing this specific moment. The words themselves are not that important, it is the timing of the delivery. 

But you don't get that credit when it's on the wall above the light switch. Upon further review, these are statements of what they think you should believe about yourself. They are quite convinced that this mindless positive chat would be helpful to you if you kept saying it to yourself, so they are prompting that. It is a mild version of that theology of positive confession, of not letting bad thoughts even enter your mind.  Turn them away at the door! Don't invite the vampire over the threshold! 

As such, it's a sermonette. And not a very good one.

Perhaps I am overthinking this.

Wednesday, April 12, 2023


Windy today. Wind is both invigorating and sleep-inducing.  Odd, that

Long before "Hamilton," I had a patient who became a friend in the early 80s who had written a play about Alexander that used lots of wind images - he was quite proud of the idea of associating Hamilton with wind. That seems like something that could be better achieved in a movie than a drama, I think.  The play was never produced, and when I saw him at the hospital again forty years later, as a geriatric patient this time, he marveled that I had remembered it. No, the play had never been produced, he sighed. He wondered if it were actually any good after all.  I hadn't read it and couldn't help him there. 

All of this is only mildly interested and somewhat poignant, except that in his two months at the hospital I re-established enough rapport with him that I was able to ask if it was his notoriety that prevented people from considering the play on its merits. He seemed a bit surprised.  He took my point immediately and thought perhaps it was true. It seemed to have never occurred to him that the fact that he had murdered his roommate a few years later might have caused his work to never be viewed in a fully objective fashion.

This is an amazing thing about memory and insight, isn't it? Was this idea not part of his thinking because of his illness, because of the passage of time (he might have know this in the late 80s and since forgotten it, after all), or some theory of artistic expression and its independence from the creator that completely dominated his thinking?  Likely none of these things in isolation, but in some combination.

For me, this was likely sparked by the book club (I got an invite from a frequent commenter here) reading of Intellectuals by Paul Johnson and the real-life backgrounds of some major influencers of modern thought - in this case Percy Bysshe Shelley most prominently. I knew people in the theater at college who thought they had especial license for misbehavior because they were artists. Yet I think we have to apply some discount for the fact that they were also 20 years old. Few of us were at our best then. Though these seem to be people who persisted in their entitlement for decades following.

As this is occurring in the context of me thinking about memory, insight, and describing my career, I wonder if it is possible for me to rank the professions I have known in order of their level of entitlement? I may or may not have a go at that. I have no fear of insulting my friends with that one.  If you come from one of those professions I'm sure you have more examples than I do, and sigh deeply at that.

Tuesday, April 11, 2023


 Remember that we make them more partisan than they are, because we want them to be that way.

It's on us.

Monday, April 10, 2023

Unwritten Codes

 We know there are American equivalents, but I only intuit a fraction of them. When my mother remarried, we moved into a borderland of upper middle class who had some generational connection to the Saltwater Life but were not quite there. My mother and stepfather naturally took to rising and by the time the Official Preppy Handbook came out in 1980 they looked much like the illustrations for their generation. They got invited by friends in Ogunquit and Bar Harbor and Bald Peak and generally moved into some nearer borderland. They pursued no further, because they actually liked the friends they liked and the activities they found fun. Yes, the Wayland-Weston Curling Club was prestigious and they went to bahnspiels in Canada and Scotland, but they also actually enjoyed the sport and felt no need to join the slightly higher-placed clubs. Natural rather than driven elites, but still way out of my range. My disdain always showed, even when it was mixed with envy, and eventually, I could no longer have ever found my way in. 

If you don't know, you don't know. And usually, I don't.

When colleges get rid of standardised tests, they increase the power of the unwritten rules. People throw this at them, as if this is news to their admissions offices and must be curtailed. Those offices have long known this, and have long since switched to Plan B. You just don't know it yet, because there are still enough exceptions that it's not easily discovered.


I was very excited about a 2017 book Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker and praised it here. 

I just started Alexey Guzey's takedown of the book Matthew Walker's "Why We Sleep" Is Riddled With Scientific and Factual Errors, Sorry if you wasted money or effort on my account. The comments suggest weaknesses in the criticism and support Walker, including claims that Walker clarifies some of these things himself in later chapters. I think Guzey still has some very solid stuff here.


Bird Dog over at Maggie's passes along this study about lying. It is a topic I am quite interested in if it's got real data. In my field were usually more concerned with whose story was accurate, rather than who is telling the truth and who is lying. This is because some of the stories came from the mentally ill, who were psychotic or emotionally biased so strongly as to make their stories unreliable, but not necessarily lying. Some were lying.  So were some of the families providing us with information or occasionally, even the agencies involved. But mostly it was different slants, perspectives, and desires, which over time bent the information. It was best to be aware of the possibility of lying, but attribute variances in stories to other causes.

Still, there were times when it was important, or times when we simply learned that someone was lying, even though we had not sought the info. I heard many people - I even had to go to inservices - tell me with great confidence that they knew how to detect lying.  Some would say that they just had an intuitive goof feel for this, others that they had been trained. I figured there was probably some training out there that was founded on real information, but because so much of what I heard was pretty obviously bogus I just tuned it all out. Maybe the people in the spy business had some real info, but law enforcement certainly didn't, and teachers and social workers had great confidence but poor results as well. 

I had an advantage because I sometimes had outside information, even information from years ago, at my fingertips, so I didn't need to try and guess whether someone was lying. But this allowed me to evaluate the people claiming to detect lies as well. "He's claiming to have $4M, but when I asked him what his investments were he wouldn't tell me." Well, he lives in a house worth $2.3M and his mother says he owns it. (He might think what his investments are are none of your business, too.) I would doubt everyone but not disbelieve anyone. If someone came in claiming to have been abused I would consider even some unlikely scenarios possible, because I had seen them be true.  But I also thought this might be calculated, because I had seen that as well. 

Heck, I sometimes have something come out of my mouth and wonder if I am still sure about it, and certainly don't trust my own motives. But I have also said some unbelievable things that were in fact true. Including about my motives. I think.

There was often a focus on eyes, or hands, or posture. I'm not saying that all of these are not true.  I don't know and don't care.  I do know that some of them are, and don't know who to trust, so I trust no one. There is a text evaluation training that purports to detect lying, and some law-enforcement communities swear by it. I thought I had posted on it about five years ago but can't find it. I think I read about it in National Review. Police detectives will try to use it in court if the defense attorney isn't savvy. It has no independent supporting verification behind it.  None. I recall one aspect was red-flagging people using synonyms instead of the same words over and over again in longer written statements. This meant they were lying. Well, some of us were taught that this was just better writing and have been doing it automatically since oh, fifth grade or something. It's ludicrous.

I have heard people claim that if people say too much it's a sign of lying. Ah. So you don't like people who talk too much. Thanks a bunch. Sorry if the truth hurts. I even know a researcher whose work sometimes suggests this, even though the actual papers only identify something consistent with the above - people who put in a lot of vaguer verbiage but are short on specific details in their ongoing reports are more likely to be cooking the books. (The experimental evidence for that limited proposition looked pretty good, and seems quite believable.  But it's not the same thing as marking people down for mere quantity.  Quantity is apparently good in some settings.)

I did have one red-flag that I developed over years, and would say it to teams I worked with behind closed doors.  I would never use it in court or in a report, and with all such strictly observational data, someone might come along next week with a better-evidenced theory that incorporates it. You may not have much cause to use it, and remember, there's no research behind this but I found it a good red flag. When people are formulating an answer, they will sometimes raise their eyes slightly and look at the wall/horizon, not directly at you. Observing my own mind when I do this, I concluded that they are choosing among some alternatives of what to say. How should I put this? What tack should I take? Should I mention my sister's involvement or not? Nothing wrong with that. As their eyes drifted higher they seemed to be considering more possibilities, and my internal observation seemed consonant with this. Man! I have no idea where to start here. I could go in so many directions explaining this to them.  

Now they could be getting into the territory of deception here, of choosing too carefully how to say something. But that is in no way automatic. People stare off into space to answer or explain something all the time. But extending that increased-choices idea, when people were looking straight up at the ceiling, when they were supposedly talking to you but were leaning back in the chair and had their hands behind their head, they were choosing from an infinite number of possibilities. That is, no real filters anymore. That is, lying. I even tried it on myself, but couldn't get there. (Perhaps I find a 20% level of deception sufficient!) 

Spinning their swivel chair only confirmed it. That was actually where I started this theory, from the other end, of noticing that the swivelers and ceiling-lookers were often lying and trying to figure out what that meant.


Sasha Chapin has a post about encouraging others linked by Rob Henderson.  It in turn links to other articles that are valuable.  This is of course the great difficulty of reading blogs and substacks,* that the people whose writing you like will recommend and link to others who you find you also like, and the morning is shot. Chapin doesn't give the same advice I would, but I think it valuable (and maybe better).

This doesn’t have to take the form of coaching or intense feedback sessions, although if you have a relationship with someone such that you can give them detailed feedback, that can be a real gift. Often, the best way to do it is to issue a very specific compliment. People love specific compliments. Something like, say, “I really love how naturalistic and easygoing your writing is. You’re really great at capturing mundane emotions—you make common human experiences come alive in a way that’s unusual.” One thing worth remembering, here, is that people never receive feedback on their work. Even people with a seemingly large number of friends, colleagues, Twitter followers, etcetera, might be receiving a paucity of feedback, and might be totally in the dark about what they’re doing unusually well.

I commented there that Lord of the Rings would not have been completed - would not have been completed, ever - had CS Lewis not harassed Tolkien about it, particularly in the last two years before it went out to the publisher. Tollers spoke movingly about his friend's contribution in this in later years. 

I did a lot of encouraging at work, in ways as various as I could come up with. I heartily dislike the generic "You guys are doing great work" sort of compliment from people who have only the vaguest idea what is up.  It would be irritating to get some little appreciation package from the head of the social work department with a couple of Hershey's kisses**, some gold stars, and an identical peppy but bland note to all of us. This is because I knew that some of my coworkers absolutely sucked at this job but no one would man up to fire them, and they got one too. But something specific? Someone noticing what was the real deal?  Pure gold. I could go a long time even on very little of that fuel.

Example: a supervisor in the late 80s found me quite irritating, and I knew both her (unattractive and illegal) personal reasons for this and her work-related (mostly unjustified but understandable) reasons for this. I would say the quiet part out loud, and there came a time when our branch of the department was going to get stuck with something just because no one else wanted it. I kept asking her at meetings to push this back upwards and even offered to help, and in the meantime, gave a couple of very solid reasons why this was a bad idea for us. Eventually, it came to us anyway, and she had to sign off on it.  A year later she came to me and said "David, you are the only person in the department who isn't complaining about this.  You are just doing it and moving on. After how strongly you opposed this, with the others not making much noise about it, I expected the opposite." I explained what my theory of authority - a good evangelical biblical approach from the 80s - was to be bold in advice and criticism, but then defer to authority once the decision had been made. "I'd heard you say something like that a few times, but I didn't think you really meant it. Everyone else does the opposite. And I really understand what you are doing at meetings now much better." There wasn't a lot of direct compliment in all that, but the implied compliment and the understanding of what I was doing were clear.

I have always done this in my personal life as well, looking for opportunities to encourage. I am well up on the Gaussian distribution on this trait.

And yet I actually don't do it half as well or a tenth as often as I should.  Which is rather an indictment of how poorly we all do. I'm the smartest kid in the dumb row.  Not good enough.

*Brad DeLong ""A substack is just a blog with a bigger tip jar."

**I ate 'em anyway, of course.

Sunday, April 09, 2023


 "Boomtown" was the song most people remembered from the show.

The coastal New England accents here, starting right away with the first guy, are just tremendous.  If you want to learn the accent, start with them.  Some of people in the video are locally famous as well, and of course there's Leno and Wright.

But I liked "Hoofbeats" better.  It was a little darker.

When I moved to Sudbury, people took care to point out where his house was. Rex Trailer was a big deal, even if you were a suburban hippie and "too old for that stuff" in 1971. He came from Ft Worth and was an actual cowboy, not just a show cowboy, and ended up in Massachusetts pretty much by accident.


I don't think I mentioned it before, but the White Sands footprints have been known about for a couple of years now. They are thousands of years earlier than we used to think humans came to the New World - like 20K BC versus 13K BC, a big difference. The doubt seeps in because there are no bones, so carbon dating from the organic material to identify the strata is a bit more risky. Still, it is considered pretty solid.

Nor is it the only pre-Clovis find. There are sites in Mexico and the Northwestern US that may not be related to any current humans, so presumably died out eventually without descendants, yet they were here. We tend to dismiss tribes if they weren't "our" ancestors, but really, define our. Do we think people who have no descendants now are not quite real?  I suppose there is an evolutionary fitness definition that means you aren't real if none of your grandchildren have any kids, but we don't usually conceive of it that way.  And a tribe that dies out isn't really any different, is it?

Caribou Hunting


I asked him what the bridge was - train? Road? Kitzrutin River, So only two hours more from home in Nome. They had been on snowmobile 9 previous hours that day - and a similar amount to get out there. Not for me, thanks.


But in the end, three caribou.  Apparently you are supposed to call them bou. JA's share is probably going to be about 150 libs.


 What do you call a snake who works for the government?

A Civil Serpent

"Vesuviano" about Stanford Law Speech

Over at Ann Althouse, she quotes commenter "Vesuviano" under the New York Times article (not linked) about free speech at Stanford. 

In 1969 I was a student at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda, Maryland. Members of the American Nazi Party were allowed to visit the school and present their point of view that the Holocaust had not happened. The event was held after school in the cafeteria, and expectations for students who chose to attend were made absolutely clear to us by the principal. We were to be respectful at all times; we were not to interrupt the speakers; anything we had to say could be said in the Q & A afterwards. Those of us who attended prepared ourselves extremely well and did as we had been directed. During the presentation we took notes, sat on our hands, kept our mouths shut, and did not interrupt the speakers in any way. Then afterwards in the Q & A we absolutely shredded them. When they left, they knew they had been soundly trounced by a bunch of high school history geeks. It was a very valuable experience to me, and a lesson that ideas, no matter how vile, should be argued, defended, and defeated in public.

Sounds about right.

Friday, April 07, 2023


Contrary to what we keep hearing, people go on twitter to get information (and real researchers are on there) and in the hopes of finding something humorous, not because they want to get angry. Yes, some of them consider insults about their opponents to be funny if it is presented in any kind of format that is supposed to be humorous, and some actually do go to Twitter to get angry. But more usually, they seek amusement, and curse themselves for the wasted time searching out funny content, not what has happened to their personalities.

I like this guy.

ChatGPT as DM

Someone tried to enlist Chat GPT as their Dungeon Master.

I read a few pages, it looked like fun, but not enough to move me to do anything further. If any of you read farther and learn something surprising leave it here. ChatGPT is going to do some things well, others not, I suppose.