Wednesday, July 11, 2012

This explains a lot

. . . about, well, a lot.


Last night I ran into a neighbor who mentioned that her husband is taking Calculus II this summer, and only that one class because calculus is hard, you know. I said, I know, I took it in summer school too, and only that one class so I could focus on just that. Because it was hard.

Which reminded me of a student who completely amazed me one summer. She worked for Dell and Dell was paying her tuition, but only if she got her degree within a certain time frame - I think that's how it went, why she was doing this. Anyway, she was going to St. Ed's working on a bachelor's in business and needed to graduate at the end of the summer.

Now if you haven't done summer school in college, this is the deal. You take a class that usually lasts four and a half months and cram it into 6 weeks. Full time students generally take five or six classes during the Fall or Spring semester, but you're not allowed to take more than two at a time in summer school. There's two six week sessions, so you can do four classes in a summer. I did it several times and I liked the intensity of it. For one summer, eat, sleep, go to class, study, and that's all.  I could do it because I had no job, no kids, all I had to do was school.

Anyway, this student needed eight classes to finish her degree. So she was taking 4 classes - two at St. Ed's, two at ACC - during the first six week session. And then 4 more - two at St. Ed's, two at ACC - during the second six week session. Oh, and there's no break between the two sessions. This summer, for example, the first session ends Friday July 6 and the second session begins Monday July 9.

She was a divorced single mom with three kids.

And a full time job at Dell.

She packed a suitcase for each of the three kids and delivered them to her ex-husband. "They're yours for the summer. I have to finish school. Love you, kids! I'll visit when I can."

There was still the full-time job.

She passed all her courses, got her degree that summer. She made a B in my class. I could tell from her work that she was usually an A student, but I thought a B was damn good, considering. [published on 5/21/12]


Once upon a time in the dead of winter in the Dakota Territory, Theodore Roosevelt took off in a makeshift boat down the Little Missouri River in pursuit of a couple of thieves who had stolen his prized rowboat. After several days on the river, he caught up and got the draw on them with his trusty Winchester, at which point they surrendered. Then Roosevelt set off in a borrowed wagon to haul the thieves cross-country to justice. They headed across the snow-covered wastes of the Badlands to the railhead at Dickinson, and Roosevelt walked the whole way, the entire 40 miles. It was an astonishing feat, what might be called a defining moment in Roosevelt’s eventful life. But what makes it especially memorable is that during that time, he managed to read all of Anna Karenina. I often think of that when I hear people say they haven’t time to read. ― David McCullough

via [published on 5/21/12]

Spirals, Fibonacci, and Being a Plant

Part 2, Part 3. More Vi Hart at her YouTube channel. [published on 4/4/12]

Why This Kolaveri Di

Current favorite music video. Which makes more sense if you read this first.

[published on 1/8/12]

What was the injustice?

Teenagers' emotions are intense, but their world is not all hormones and feelings. Their brains are waking up. They think. A lot. (It may not look like it to the adults around them, but that's because they're not thinking about what the adults want them to think about.) And the thoughts and the feelings are not separate things - for one thing, our feelings tell us what to think about, tell us what's important.

Surely those intense emotions, the racing thoughts of our adolescence affect who we become.

Teenagers have a keen sense of fairness, and are outraged by injustice. Children have a sense of fairness of course, but it seems like when we are children, it's personal. We're upset when we're punished for something we didn't do, or when we tell the truth and are not believed. In adolescence we become intensely, emotionally aware that the world is not fair.

It would be interesting to ask people, "What unfairness upset you most, what injustice were you angriest about, when you were a teenager?" [published on 12/27/11

The quest to understand consciousness

TED talk by Antonio Damasio, who has spent his life studying the inseparability of mind and body, thought and emotion.

[published on 12/27/11]

Yoga class

In an effort to Stay Busy so that I won’t completely lose my mind while adapting to this retirement thing, I signed up for a yoga class at ACC. I picked one of the classes at the campus least far away which had both MW and a TTh at 10:30am, a practically perfect time that avoids having to deal with rush hour. The teacher listed in the schedule for the MW class is Barbara and Helen for the TTh class.

It didn’t much matter to me whether the class was MW or TTh, so in the end I picked the TTh one because Helen is teaching three yoga classes and Barbara mostly teaches Tai Chi and just has the one yoga class. I thought maybe that meant that Helen is a better yoga teacher, but really, who knows?

* * * * * * * * * * * *

When I was in my late 20’s I used to swim a mile every day at Barton Springs. It’s an eighth of a mile long so it only took 8 licks (four laps) to do a mile, which I thought was quite wonderful since I am totally incapable of counting thirty something laps in a regular pool to get a mile in.

More important of course, is that Barton Springs is beautiful and beginning the day in a beautiful place does more for one’s health than any amount of exercise.

(I did these laps topless, by the way. It was an okay thing to do at the time and topless women at Barton Springs was a pretty ordinary sight.)

I usually swam in the early afternoon but for some reason one day I went to swim later. It may even have been a Saturday and I usually only swam on weekdays. I can’t remember why I went there then, just that it felt odd because it wasn’t my usual time to be there.

But when I got there, no one was in the pool, which was even odder. A crowd of people was sitting on the banks on blankets and lawn chairs.

Actually, one person was swimming the length of the pool. Back and forth. Every one was watching her.

And then . . . well, here’s what the Chronicle said about it years later:

Dancers would march through the shallows in a conga line and lie on the rocks on their backs, their upturned arms and legs undulating like underwater grasses. They'd form a circle and hit the water in sequence to make a running wave. And most often and most delightfully, they'd parade around imitating assorted animals: apes, seals, crabs, frogs, flamingos, dolphins, elephants .... Not since Ovid have there been so many magical metamorphoses.

Oh, and that one person swimming back and forth – she did that the entire time. For some reason I really liked that part.

I was enchanted, transfixed, delighted. For years after I tried to tell people about this wonderful thing that I had stumbled upon by pure luck, but it was hard to describe.

* * * * * * * * * *
I was talking to my daughter about the class I've signed up for, at Rio Grande campus, which is where she took a yoga class a few years ago. She asked who was the teacher - she really liked her teacher. I couldn't remember. Betty? We looked it up. No, Helen. She said that sounded familiar, but . . . She googled and found some former students commenting on her class. "She'll ask you to call her Dee . . ."

My daughter said, "Yes that's her. She's also a dancer. She was with Ballet Austin. She's older. She's what I want to be like when I'm her age. That's one reason I want to keep doing yoga."

She got up and hobbled around. "She said, have you seen old people walk like this? That's because they have poor circulation. You need to do yoga so you won't walk like that when you're old."

* * * * * * * * * * *

When I woke up this morning at 5am, as I've been doing lately, for some reason I found myself thinking about the yoga class and thought, wait, what was Helen's last name?

'Water Works'
Once upon a time, one of the best stages in town was Barton Springs Pool. That's because every three or four years, Dee McCandless and Gene Menger would take a couple dozen swimsuit-clad performers and present a dance around and in its chilly waters.

I groped for the iPad in the dark and checked the ACC course schedule.

Helen McCandless.

I'll be damned. Dee McCandless is going to be my yoga teacher.


[published on 12/12/11]

Jian sword dancing

As some of the commenters pointed out, this is art. It's not just the boy and the girl dancing, it's the old lady, the boom box, the dog, the beer, the suburban patio . . . BTW, here's more about the Jian sword. The boy is dancing with a balisong.

[published on 11/13/11]

The world is where we live

Definitely should be watched full screen - click the "little arrows making a star" icon next to the word Vimeo. [published on 7/31/11]


[published on 7/23/11]

Sunday, July 08, 2012


From Bronnie Ware’s blog:
Regrets of the dying:

For many years I worked in palliative care. My patients were those who had gone home to die. I was with them for the last three to twelve weeks of their lives.

When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently, common themes surfaced again and again. Here are the most common five:

1. I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

This was the most common regret of all. When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.

2. I wish I didn't work so hard.

This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children's youth and their partner's companionship. Women also spoke of this regret. But as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.

3. I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.

Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result. When you change the way you are by speaking honestly, it raises the relationship to a new level. Or it releases the unhealthy relationship from your life. Either way, you win.

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called 'comfort' of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content. When deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again. When you are on your deathbed, what others think of you is a long way from your mind.

[edited – see link for original text] [published 7/17/11]

Quitting . . . fail

I have two blogs, this one and It's all about the narrative. I made two so I could post about politics on one, and about not-politics on another. And why I feel the need to separate them is a post in itself I suppose.

Because they aren't really separable - I started thinking about politics in terms of how our brains work, how we create a picture of the word in our minds. In other words, the narrative, the story that we are telling ourselves as we go about living our lives.

Of course I noticed that our narrative doesn't just affect our politics, but, well, everything we do. So The Narrative applies to both blogs.

But I think it more properly belongs as a title to the political one and "Jackie Strange" for the more personal one. So I'm in the middle of a project to move posts from one to another and get them more organized. Which is why many have a [published on ...] note at the bottom, so it's clear when I first wrote that.

I had quite a few posts on quitting smoking last summer, which I ultimately failed at. I made it for a month, and then started again. I was hard to move those. I didn't want to be reminded of my failure, the posts seemed boring. But in the name of honesty I decided I should leave them out there on the internets.

I'm adding this because the posts about quitting just stopped, leaving, maybe, the erroneous impression that I'm now a non-smoker. Why did I start smoking again? A depression attack. It seemed to take about maximum possible will power to not smoke, and sometimes I can head off depression - but that takes near maximum too. I couldn't do both, so I chose.

Or that's what I told myself at the time. Maybe it was a rationalization, just another narrative.

Two more days

. . . . and it will have been two weeks. I still want a cigarette, though I suppose it’s less intense and less frequent than it was. I am looking forward to getting to the point of just not thinking about cigarettes at all, at least not usually. I suppose I’ll always have those moments from time to time when I think, damn, a cigarette sure would be fine right now.

And of course if I run up on a seriously bad time all bets are off. That’s always what made me a smoker again the times that I quit before.

Eh, we’ll see.

The worst part of the last week or so is that I’ve been craving food more than cigarettes. I made it through the first few days by constant snacking – jerky and jelly beans, chocolate and hard candy. I gained 2-3 pounds, cut back on the snacks and lost one or two. Then gained again. I think I’m 4-5 pounds over what I started off weighing. In less than two weeks!

Anyway, now I’m fighting food cravings and nicotine cravings. Sucks.

The first week

Sunday was really bad. That was the fourth day. A lot of things combined. I thought the worst was over and let my guard down. I spent Saturday running errands – which worked very well for Saturday – I stayed busy and didn’t think about cigarettes much, not even in the car where I have been totally in the habit of lighting up every time I get in it. But then I really had no reason to leave the house on Sunday, which made it hard to stay busy and distracted from smoking.

The main reason it was hard, though, was that Depression came knocking.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Depression is like The Bad Boyfriend that just shows up on your doorstep with all his stuff, moving in with you whether you like it or not. Does nothing useful around the house but sucks up all your attention and time, so it’s impossible to do anything else other than whatever it is he’s demanding of you at the moment. He’s exhausting. Relentless. He never leaves and he never stops with his endless, “Pay attention to M-E-E-E-E-E-E-E-E-E-E!!!!!” And of course, he knocks you around pretty much constantly, but especially when you get distracted for a moment and least expect it. So there’s pain, always pain.

But unlike the simple pain of a migraine, I never learned how to concentrate on it so completely that it simply vanished – like that faint star that you try to focus on but find that you can’t see it when you look right at it. (No rods in the fovea.)

The best I’ve been able to do with Depression is to try to leave it out on the porch, piling up boxes and suitcases, ringing the bell, knocking and yelling, “Let me in, bitch!” If I can do that, sooner of later, it will give up and go away.

I have to shove furniture against the door and put on more deadbolts and walk around with my fingers in my ears humming la-la-la-la.

For a while now, it’s worked pretty well. I’m nervous about saying I’ve conquered it, or even that I know how to deal with it. Maybe I’ve just been lucky. Maybe I haven’t really been tested lately. But anyway, I’ve been feeling pretty good about not really being completely incapacitated by it for the past year or so, some sense of accomplishment. Feeling like - depression was starting to creep up on me and I made it go away. There’s nothing humans like better than the feeling of having some control over their lives.

How do I do it? Well, some things work when it’s not too bad. That’s the thing. None of this works when it is really bad. So what works – lately – is doing everything I can manage as soon as I feel it coming on (and “coming on” is apt, because it feels very like a psychedelic drug coming on). Exercise helps. Being around people. Being outdoors. Doing something. Anything. Accomplishing something. Emptying a trash can. Loading the dishwasher. Checking the mail. Taking the dog for a walk. (Exercise! Outdoors! Good deed for dog accomplished!) If I can manage to do enough of those things, somehow, then it doesn’t seem to get to that point where I can’t do those things. (Who knows, actually, if they would help. The point is, you can’t do them.)

But doing those things is like trying to climb up a very steep hill. Through molasses. On a hot day.

Each little thing requires summoning huge reserves of determination. Must . . . take . . . out . . .trash . . . . . . . . . OK. I did that . . . . . . . . .

And the thing is, smoking a cigarette is a Thing To Do. And it’s a reward for having done something. It marks time. This I remember from the last time I quit and actually stayed quit – for three years. (Jeez. That was over thirty years ago.)

Until Sunday I hadn’t realized how much a part of dealing with oncoming depression involved smoking. It’s all about getting through a day or two without giving in to depression. Just don’t think. Don’t go there. Do things. Get outside. Talk to someone, about anything. OK, summon reserve of energy and motivation. Do Something. Smoke cigarette. Some time has passed. I’m that much closer to that annoying person out on the porch deciding to put their suitcases back in their car and leaving. Repeat until annoying person is, in fact, actually gone.

Without the time marker, time consumer, reward, of being able to smoke a cigarette fifteen or twenty times in a day that I’m just trying to get through (and yes, I’d generally smoke a lot more cigarettes than usual on those days), it was harder.

By the evening, I must have thought twenty times – probably more – “It’s a damn good thing I threw those last four cigarettes away, because if there was one in the house I would smoke it. I definitely would smoke it.”

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

I got through Sunday. Monday was the 4th of July and there was a Social Event with lots of people and things to do and so that day was pretty easy. Today was hard again. No depression, thankfully, but just hard to stay busy and distracted from nicotine cravings. This was the sixth day. Not quite through the first week of the “two weeks” part.

I really really hope that that part is true – that it will be a lot better after the two weeks have passed. This is really tiresome.
[published 7/5/11]

Sunk costs

Okay, then! Two days, 48 hours – done.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

From what I can tell, there’s been a fundamental debate going on in economics for a while that overly-simplistically boils down to, “Do people act rationally when they make economic decisions or not?”

Now, to this non-economist, the answer to that one is blindingly obvious. Of course they don’t act rationally when it comes to money. But evidently, there were economists who made all kinds of complicated mathematical models – and careers - based on so-called “rational actors” in the marketplace.

Anyway, I think the economists’ argument is now over exactly how and when are people irrational in their financial decisions, in what ways are they irrational, what factors cause them to be more irrational or more rational, etc.

One of the triggers for irrational financial decisions is the sunk costs fallacy, which our grandparents would have called “throwing good money after bad.” It’s the compulsion to keep spending money on something because you’ve already spent some amount of money on whatever it is. If you stop now that money already spent (the sunk costs) will be wasted, but if you spend just a little more, then you can recoup the money you already spent, or maybe make a profit, or maybe just lose less than if you just abandon the project and walk away.

Now that may be true, but often it’s not, and it seems just as hard to walk away when walking away is the rational thing to do as when it’s not.

Emotionally, most humans just can’t stand to totally waste that money already spent - or admit that they’ve already wasted it, with the blow to reputation and ego that goes along with that. Which means that it becomes difficult to rationally assess whether or not this is a case where a little more money will be a net benefit even if that’s just less loss, or whether a little more money is just prolonging the bleeding.

When these kinds of emotions enter the picture, people can’t even think rationally about thinking rationally, and will rationalize all kinds of bad decisions indefinitely – or until they run out of money altogether.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

When I was thinking about quitting smoking I was hoping to put that bit of irrationality to work for me. Those 48 hours are now sunk costs. If I backslide now, they’re wasted.

It wasn’t really that big a deal, but it was a real nuisance, those two days of constantly having to tell myself, ummmmm, no. Yes there are four cigarettes in the kitchen cabinet that were the ones left in the pack when I went to bed Wednesday night and yes, oh yes, it would be very, very satisfying to smoke one, just one, but . . . . no. Just don’t.

I really should throw those away. I’ll go do it now.

[published 7//11]

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Second day

I was hoping that it would be significantly better today, but not really. Any smoker  - who’s also a coffee drinker - will tell you that that first cigarette of the day with coffee is the most wonderful one. I considered drinking tea instead, so as not to trigger that coffee + cigarette craving, but I love coffee too much. Plus I don’t think tea would be enough caffeine to get me going in the morning. So I try to convince myself that coffee is satisfying the same desire that coffee and a cigarette used to.

It sort of works, but not entirely. Maybe in a few days.

More than half-way through the first part. I’m still trying to stay busy, which means that a side benefit of quitting is that I’m getting a lot of odds and ends done. Yard is starting to look pretty good and the house is improving. Paid bills and went swimming last night. Wrote last night’s blog post. Mostly sat at the computer and ate a lot of snacks.

The main reason for writing these things is for something to do, more keeping busy stuff. I’m already bored with them though.

That might be the biggest hurdle to getting through the next part – the two weeks part. Just getting bored and tired of dealing with it and saying oh screw it and lighting up.

In the meantime I’ve decided to start talking to my craving. As in, “Nicotine craving, I am really tired of you. You are boring and annoying. Go away.”

At any particular moment, I can think of about five things to do to keep myself busy, but I keep going off to do one and then a few minutes later finding myself doing something else, the first thing either forgotten before I ever got to it or started but not finished. I’m not sure if quitting smoking is making me unfocused and distractible, though. That’s pretty much how things always go.

[published on 7/1/11]

So far

I told myself, it’s only 48 hours. Forty-eight hours is nothing. And it’s true, 48 hours is not very long. But it’s amazing how the time drags when you’re fighting off craving. I amuse myself with coloring in the little squares on my graph, but it surprises me how I look at the time again and again and it hasn’t been another hour yet.

Still, I’ve made it ‘til the evening of the first day.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

When I was a teenager I had the most horrible cramps. So bad that sometimes I’d pass out from the pain at school. Worse than the migraines that started a few years later - late teens I guess – and the migraines were so bad that I used to bang my head against the cinderblock walls of the dorm room. Making pain on the outside of my skull helped to distract me from the pain inside my skull.

Anyway, with the cramps and the migraines, I usually ended up in bed, in the dark – or as dark as I could make it in the daytime, sometimes that meant under the covers – being very still. I’d think about pain, wondering what exactly pain is, trying to figure it out. And I’d ponder that so intently, trying to really feel the pain, totally and completely, so that there was nothing that existed for me except pain. It was like a place that I could go to, a room I could walk into if I concentrated hard enough, a fog that surrounded me, a fog of nothing but pain, that I breathed and touched and saw – that’s all there was, was pain.

I would talk to the pain, as if it were a being of some kind, challenging it “C’mon, pain, is that it? Is that all you got?”

It startled me the first time it happened. If I could reach a place where there was nothing but pain, where I had emptied my mind of everything else, every stray thought, every sensation other than pain . . . the pain stopped. It simply didn’t hurt.

It was hard to hold onto that place, but I got better at it over time and most of the time, if I could be very still, if it was very quiet and dark, I could get there and stay there long enough to fall asleep. When I woke up the pain would either be gone or down to a manageable ache.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

So anyway, when I find that I really, really, really want a cigarette, I try to immerse myself in that craving feeling the way I used to with the pain feeling. And when I do – when I consciously feel the feeling, and at the same time look at it and think about it from the outside – then it’s, well, it’s a craving feeling. It’s annoying and unpleasant and uncomfortable and frustrating, but it’s not really all that terrible. I mean, it’s not pain.

[published on 6/30/11]

Three hours

This is what 3 hours looks like on my graph thingy:

OK, so it's really a table. But to me table = organizing information, graph = visualizing information. Therefore, this is a graph. In my world.

[published on 6/30/11]


A noticed a few days ago that cigarettes tasted really horrible. I mean, I’m sure many would say – of course they do. Why is this news? Because it was new to me.

I knew that other people find the smell of cigarettes nasty, some to the point that it makes them gag. I could walk into my house and think, ugh, smells like cigarettes in here.

But there was always that loveliness for me of the inhale. Like chocolate. Or sex.

I guess that’s what I’d say to someone who doesn’t smoke and can’t understand why smokers persist in being so stupid and disgusting.

What if it were sex? What if medical researchers had very good evidence that having sex, um, damaged your immune system in some subtle way. That that intimate contact between your body and another body with different MHC proteins, different microflora, over time, inhibited natural killer cells and greatly reduced their ability to destroy cancerous cells. So that, when you looked at the epidemiology of it, you see that people who have led celibate lives have much lower cancer rates than people who have had sex. And further, the more years of sexual activity, the higher the rate of cancer.

So. Would you stop having sex? The healthier celibates are telling you that they don’t miss it at all, that life is better without sex. Really. And the sooner you quit having sex the better, but it’s never too late.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

There are moments when you think: Right now. Right now life is good. Right now I feel so lucky to be alive.

We’d like to think that those moments are when something momentous is happening, but more often I think, it’s just some bit of the loveliness of life that strikes you.

I often feel it when I walk out on my back porch late at night in the summer. There’s something about the feel of the air on a summer night in a hot climate. As if the air is palpable, liquid, cool and flowing over skin in the light breeze. Sometimes there’s a moon lighting the trees and grass of my back yard. My dog will be there, and often a cat or two.

That’s all. Nothing special really. Just walking out on my back porch after midnight, on the way to bed. But I feel it for a few minutes. I’m so glad I’m alive.

Sex usually did that for me. And a really good meal. And those first couple of cigarettes in the morning with coffee. And the ones that I smoked as soon as I got home, that I’d been looking forward to for the last hour or two of work.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Anyway, suddenly not feeling it. Cigarettes stop the craving for a cigarette, but at a cost of oh my god that is so nasty gah hurts my throat smells terrible bleh.

So I figure, seize the moment and quit now.

A friend who had to write a paper for psych class years ago had done it on quitting smoking (though she had never smoked, which I found interesting). Anyway, she had discovered that many experts in the field declared that the first 48 hours were the most difficult. Pretty much all you’re going to do in that time is crave a cigarette. Constantly. For two weeks, the cravings are pretty frequent. It’s hard to not backslide, hard to keep up your motivation. But it’s not as bad as those first 48 hours. After that it gets a lot easier. Cravings are infrequent and more and more fleeting. At six months, something changes – you’re really a non-smoker now. Not that you’ll never want a cigarette again, but disliking cigarettes becomes strong.

So. Two days. Two weeks. Six months.

I’m on day one. It’s been 3 hours since I got up. Three hours of that first 48. I cleaned up the kitchen, fertilized the plants in the vegetable garden, watered it, made a little graph thing that I can color to mark my 2-2-6 progress, watered the flower garden in the front yard, fed the pets, mowed the back yard, wrote this blog post . . . and it’s only been three hours. And I really, really, really want a cigarette.

[published on 6/30/11]

New news

I posted a while ago about Fallow’s Why Americans Hate the Media. I was reading along in the comments that follow this story by Ta-Nehisi Coates – which I’d been doing off and on all day – when it occurred to me that that post and its comments, and another story I’d read earlier today, plus something that happened months ago pretty much summed up exactly why so many people like me have abandoned newspapers, TV news, and newsmagazines.

This is about the story I read earlier today, and this is about the thing that happened months ago.

This is TNC's original post:

'My Whole Desire Was to Choose Him for My Companion'

In 1867, Carrie Hall, a white woman, married Sandy Alexander Hall, a black man. They were, like many interracial couples, tormented by whites in fear of the fall of white supremacy. Here is Carrie Hall's appeal to the local Freedman's Bureau

Dear Sir,

As you are the Bureau agent of this county, I have some advice to ask of you, if you please, concerning myself and my husband.  I am a White woman and my husband is a Colored gentleman. Some two or three years ago, I became very much attached to this colored gentleman for whom my desire grew stronger and stronger every day of my life, and my whole desire was to choose him for my Companion and my Husband through life,and he was the only one on this earth that I desired for a husband and I never would have been happy without him.

But of course we had to keep all of this a secret to ourselves, fearing that the white people would trouble him about me and I would not have him hurt on my account no way in this world, for my respect and love towards him was too great for anything of that kind to trouble his mind, and I would stand up in any crowd to save him from any trouble if I had it to do, or if I have it to, for it is me that is the cause of this being carried on as far as it is so, for me charging him to marry me.

We came to the conclusion some two or three months ago that we would get married and see what would be the trouble with us anyway. So he got his licenses and paid for them and we were married by an ordained minister of the Gospel, though our marriage was somewhat secret we are lawfully and honestly husband and wife before God and Man and would be one of the happiest couples in the world if it were not for this: Some of the white people have learned some or the other that we are married, or at least that I have married a colored gentleman and I hear they are making great talk of what they are going to do and my mind is in great trouble fearing they may try to carry out some of their plans.

I have no relations near me to interfere with us and besides I am an orphan and have been working for my self ever since I was eleven years of age and now I am twenty-six years of age no one has any right to interfere with me or my husband or at least I don't think they have under the circumstances as he was my choice.

And now my dear sir the advice I ask of you is this: If you please to let me know if anyone has any rights or law or Authority to interfere with us and if not will you be kind enough to give each of us, from your hand a writing that will save us from any trouble--that is, if it is in your power to do so. If it is not and you can not attend to to it for us, will you please inform me who to apply to. If you can, please give us two notes--one for me and one for my husband. My husband is living in Ala. and I am living in Ga. The reason we are not living together is he is in a contract on a plantation and can not leave until the end of the year. I left the neighborhood knowing that the white people would be against me for marrying this colored gentleman.

I am living with my husband's Uncle in Georgetown, Ga. If you can understand my trouble by this letter and can help me out, please do so as soon as you can and I never can thank you for as long as I live. I will now give you my husband's name--Sandy Alexander Hall lives near Eufala Barbour Co., Ala. My name is Carrie Hall living in Georgetown, Ga. I write you confidentially. Please answer this as soon as you can and excuse my bad writing and spelling and also the letter. I wrote it in the best of my knowledge, and hope you might understand it.,

Very Respectfully,
Carrie Hall

The letter itself is moving, and infinitely more interesting than anything one might find on the TV. But it's the comments to this story. . . . TNC's place is famous for the quality of its commenters, but there's more to it than that this time. No spoiler here, Just go read.

There are a lot of comments. The part I'm so amazed by is near the end of them, but . . . Worth It. Definitely.

[published on 12/30/10]

Who do you love?

It's really hard to love an actual person, rather than the person we think they are or who we want them to be.

[published on 12/16/10]


SKATEISTAN: TO LIVE AND SKATE KABUL from Diesel New Voices on Vimeo.

Watch in full screen if possible. Incredibly beautiful photography. Moving story.

[published on 11/26/10]

Life, time, etc.

So i'm hanging out at my favorite political blog. It's late, and the proprietor is posting music videos. Little Feat . . .

. . . and the Grateful Dead. . . .

Sitting on my back porch after midnight, with my laptop in my lap, listening to youtubes. I'm back at the Armadillo, a 20-something hippie chick dancing.

The night before I was having dinner with Darksyde at Threadgill's. I'm now 60-something, and I'm in the same place - the intersection of Barton Springs Road and Riverside Drive. Instead of dancing, I'm having an earnest discussion about health care reform.

But the dancer hasn't gone anywhere. Forty years has passed, that's all.

[published on 8/28/09]

Eight biases - the first four

Emily Pronin's paper, "The Bias Blind Spot," describes three studies which attempt to identify the reason that people consistently view others as more biased than themselves. The first study began with having participants read a booklet describing eight specific biases. Some I recognized, some I didn't. So here are brief descriptions of four of the eight biases described in the booklet (I'll do the next four another time):

1. The self-serving bias - attributing one's successes to one's own personal attributes or effort, but one's failures to external forces beyond one's control. "I avoided the accident because I am a good driver and reacted quickly. I had the wreck because the rainy street was slick."

2. Choice-supportive bias - remembering mainly the positive qualities about a choice made and mainly the negative qualities about the choice not made. "I stayed home Friday night because I was really tired. It felt good to just relax for a change. I had a great weekend because I had a lot of energy. The party I chose not to go to was too far away. Several of the people who were going to be there are annoying and boring. I would have spent most of Saturday morning with a hangover if I'd gone." (Reduces the dissonance of the possibility that the choice not made would have actually been better. Coulda been a great party.)

3. The halo effect - the tendency to see additional positive qualities in a person or object after noticing one positive quality (or additional negative qualities after noticing one negative one). If someone strikes you as friendly or attractive on first meeting, you're more likely to judge them as intelligent, or talented, or industrious, etc. than if the first thing you noticed about them was that they are physically unappealing, or have a snobbish attitude. Even though an ugly or snobbish person may be as intelligent, talented, or industrious (or even more so) as the friendly, attractive person.

4. Pronin calls the fourth bias "biased assimilation of new information." I think she is referring to what is commonly called confirmation bias. (One of my favorites.) New information that confirms one's current opinions or understanding is considered to be very important, highly relevant, and is remembered for a long time. Information that contradicts one's beliefs is dismissed as unimportant or the rare exception - and often promptly forgotten. One particularly interesting effect of this bias is that when people are presented with (true) information that reveals that a deeply held belief is, in fact, false, more often than not they will not only not change their (false) opinion - they will embrace it more strongly.

[published on 7/24/09]

And also

When I said I could spend a year thinking about this paper, I should add that this paper, too, is an essential part of what Pronin has to say.

[published on 7/20/09]


So, given what I just said, why continue to post these?

My daughter claims that the way to defeat an earworm is to listen to the song. That the source of the earworm is some part of your brain that's frustrated because it can't remember all the parts of the song exactly - usually it's some of the words that you can't quite conjure up. When you listen to it, that part of your brain says, "Right - that's it" and lets it go.

One of the characteristics of depression is a repeating pattern of distressing thoughts - no matter how hard you try to distract yourself or to convince yourself - by reason and logic - that the thoughts are wrong, no matter how much will power you try to exert to simply stop thinking that! . . . they won't stop.

Just like an earworm, but Bad Stuff. A train of thought instead of a tune.

Long before I heard my daughter's Theory of Earworms, I felt like - if I could just write it all down, it would go away.

I could keep a journal - and I have attempted to many times. But I can never keep it up. It seems pointless. With a journal, I'm just talking to myself, and I'm already talking to myself in my head.

The point of a blog is that you're theoretically talking to someone else. Even if no one else in the entire worldwide web of electrons and pixels ever reads it - there is at least the possibility that someone will stumble across it. Maybe just to say, "Huh" and move on, but still.

So I'll see. Maybe this will be different from a journal. I'm not particularly interested in actually writing the Bad Stuff that gets stuck in my head, but I am interested in writing about the reasons that particular Bad Stuff got stuck there. How brains work, why we think the way we do. Or why I think the way I do.

It may not be original or profound or brilliantly written (see whatIjustsaid), but what the hell.

[published on 7/20/09]

How We See Ourselves and How We See Others

You know, I really love the internet. I mean, I really love it. I'm one of those who thinks it will change everything in ways that we are just beginning to glimpse. And that, overall, those changes will be for the better.

But one of its effects is to make it hard for me to write. I expect I'm hardly unique in this, but I have no way to be sure - yet.

Decades ago, I'd have what I thought was a brilliant idea or a profound insight and I couldn't wait to write it down. Such brilliance must be preserved!

But now . . . whatever I'm thinking, before I have a chance to write it down, I discover that someone else already has. And furthermore, they've thought it out in much more depth and expressed it much better than I could. So I lose interest in writing my own thoughts. I mean, what's the point of saying something that's unoriginal, poorly expressed, and shallow - that is, my thoughts on the matter.

I started this particular blog to have a place to write down my thoughts on how we see each other, the stories we tell ourselves about the people around us and how that affects what we choose to do. And how those choices shape our lives and the lives of those same people that we make stories about.

Then I come across How We See Ourselves and How We See Others.


I could spend a year thinking about this paper.

[published on 7/20/09]

The narrative

Sometimes I end up with a phrase stuck in my head that seems to answer a question that I’ve been thinking about, puzzling over, vexing myself to try to figure out for a long time – years even. There’s an aha! That’s IT!

For a long time it was, “The one thing that trumps everything else is the need to feel special.” Maybe I’ll make another blog about that one some day.

But right now, I’m fixated on The Narrative. Or narratives. That is, the stories we tell ourselves. The ones that make sense out of whatever we’re experiencing or thinking. That have a beginning, middle, and end. A plot. That have prototypical characters. Stories that “come out.” As in, “how did it come out?” Did it have a happy ending? Did the good guys win? Or was it one of those bleak ones, where you can’t win, and the point of the story is to make clear that you can’t?

The essential part is that the story makes sense. It’s logical.

And of course, it’s almost always wrong.

As my sister Fredda said, “Well, if it’s about people, and it makes sense, it’s guaranteed to be wrong. People don’t make sense.”

What she said.

[published on 7/15/09]