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Saturday, June 23, 2012

Two Slogans Seen Yesterday

On a T-shirt, "DOUBT ME": on a button, "If you're happy and you know it clap your... oh," over an image of a dinosaur.

Monday, June 18, 2012

What's Your Eerie Coincidence?

A professor at Cambridge is collecting people's experiences of coincidences that strike them as improbable, with a view to understanding these experiences better. I've submitted one, which is copied below.

In 1997 or thereabout, I was reading a science fiction magazine called Terra Incognita while on the train to a memorial for someone who'd been well known in one of my social circles, named Frank Lovell. I put the magazine away when I arrived at the venue, the Tamiment Labor Library at New York University in New York City. When it was over I left the room and walked to the elevator on the mezzanine level, that of the library. While waiting for the elevator to arrive, I resumed reading the story I was on. It was a story about someone who's received a mysterious job offer, and he has to meet someone in front of a specific building to be interviewed for it. So now I get to the description of where the building is, and it's described as being on a particular side of Washington Square. I realize that I am at that very moment in a building on Washington Square and, further, that it is the only building on the side specified in the story. So I am on the mezzanine level of this building "at the same time" that the protagonist is standing in front of it! Spooky.
You can read this and other people's experiences, submit your own, and learn more about the project at http://understandinguncertainty.org/user-submitted-coincidences/fictionalreal-location

Monday, June 11, 2012

Nostalgia Is Funny


I once heard it said, "Nostalgia isn't necessarily about missing the times when we were young because they were better, so much as about missing them simply because we were young." Something like this must be involved in the feelings I had about learning of Robin Gibbs' (of the BeeGees) death.
This particular nostalgia must reflect a longing for the lost sense of certainty that I was part of a "special" group. Yet now I recognize that this experience -- especially the part where I was forced out of the group -- did me emotional damage, as well as confining the scope of my intellect for many years thereafter.

Conversely, another tune's associations have improved for me through the same process. As I walked home from the meeting in which the chapter organizer first tried to persuade me to leave the group because of my tendency to think for myself (although he disguised this with a euphemism sufficient to keep me from seeing what I didn't want to see), the music that happened to be running through my head was the theme to the British TV series The Prisoner, which was on Channel 12 at the time. So for quite some time thereafter, this music had very negative associations for me. This now seems particularly ironic: although I didn't realize it then, leaving the YSA was the first step out of a prison.

I heard from Maria again. A few weeks ago we'd made plans for a fourth date, and when I was starting on my way there she called to say she'd been up late the night before and was tired, so she asked to postpone it. But after I messaged her about plans the following weekend, she didn't get back to me. A few days ago I messaged her again, and yesterday left something on her voice mail indicating my displeasure. So today she PMed me back with an explanation that there'd been a death in the family, and she hopes to get together again soon.

That, I can certainly understand. After my father died when I was a teenager, I remember my mother took me out of school and drug me around for a few weeks. There wasn't anything for me actually to do to help her, but it seems she needed my company. And it happened so suddenly that my teachers didn't know what was going on until after the fact.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Discriminating Observations

A column in the latest issue of Metro (6/8/12, p.4) argues that people mistakenly think that forms of discrimination are illegal which are not, and tells people to get over their bias against discrimination, justifying this by reference to biased ideas about only children. I wrote this response:


Danny Cevallos's column is a good example of why we should maintain a presumptive bias against discrimination: the fact that it's so often based on a prejudice not supported by facts.

Cevallos justifies discrimination against only children on the basis of old stereotypes, without offering any evidence that they're true. Frank Sulloway's book Born to Rebel: Birth Order, Family Dynamics, and Creative Lives has shown that firstborns are more likely than laterborns to be eminent in traditional areas of achievement, but this is less true of only children. And even if only children were more likely to achieve, this would simply prove that their upbringing equipped them for achievement, thereby making them most suitable for eminence. Greater competence could hardly justify discrimination!

The only proper criterion for selecting people is individual merit. Any kind of discrimination, legal or not, is invidious because it's based on a prejudice about a group rather than the individual's qualifications.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Selection Bias

Someone posted a flier near College Green showing a line of brown men with their child brides/fiancees under the title, "Islam Is for Lovers." I commented with my ballpoint: "That's like pointing at Tony Alamo Ministries or FLDS and saying, 'Christianity is for lovers.'"

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Do What They're Not Expecting

This morning I received a private message on Facebook from someone whose name I didn't recognize. It turned out to be abuse from someone who'd previously sent me a friend request, to which I'd responded by asking the reason.

I soon concluded he was a troll, and was initially inclined to retaliate in some way. But then I decided it would be more interesting to surprise him by finding the original request and confirming it. But it seems I'd deleted the notification, and searching Facebook for his name yields no results. He must have deleted his account as soon as he sent the message, so that I couldn't respond. Oh, well.