Archive for the ‘Psychology’ Category


I’m going stir crazy, and I presume damn near everyone else is too — and after only two weeks.

After thinking about how much you dislike this mild form of isolation, please think about all of the prisoners subjected to total isolation for months or years on end think about how they feel, what it does to them. And then think about how the government you support subjects people to such psychological torture.

Whatever. Here are a few things that might help you pass the time in your mild form of lockdown:

  • Archive.org  has a very large library of classic films, including a very nice collection of films noir. All are free.
  • Kanopy features the Criterion collection of films and many others, and is free on many public library sites. The film I’ve seen most recently that I’d recommend is Harrod Blank’s (son of legendary countercultural director Mel Blank) Wild Wheels, a wonderful documentary about art cars and their creators. If nothing else will do it, this will leave with a kinder view of humanity, its creativity, and a smile on your face.
  • Learn the night sky. The best free tool to help you do this is Stellarium (free download). Probably the best planetarium program, regardless of cost. Even if you just have your naked eyes, you can learn the constellations and follow the planets. If you have even cheap, small binoculars, Stellarium will open a whole new world of deep sky objects to you; and if you have even a cheap kid’s 60 mm telescope, wow are you in for some fun — especially as both air pollution and light pollution abate with the coronavirus tragedy. (Always look on the bright side of life.)
  • Learn to sing or play an instrument. Even if you just have your voice, there are a lot of vocal lessons available on Youtube. Singing is also a great shame-attacking exercise. If you have even a cheap instrument available, there are likewise a hell of a lot of useful instructional videos. One Youtube channel that I’ve found particularly useful is GuitarPilgrim, though to take full advantage of the videos you need to be at least an intermediate-level player. Whatever, the guy is an incredibly good guitarist and also incredibly good at explaining how to do things. I can’t recommend this more highly — it’s head-and-shoulders above all of the other instructional guitar videos I’ve seen.
  • Write. If you’re reading this, you have the means to do it. Nowadays, there are an incredible number of aids available, both in your word processing program and online. My favorite tool is probably the self-explanatory thesaurus.com. And buck up — today, you have it good: take advantage of all the tools. For both nonfiction and fiction, it’s a great idea to write a highly detailed outline before you start writing. You won’t follow it, but it’s a great jumping-off point.
  • Garden. As long as the water stays on, you’re good. Even if you’ve never done it before, it should be pretty easy. I live in one of the most hostile environments in the U.S. for gardening (alkaline, nutrient-deficient soil, low rainfall, brutal sun), and I still get good yields. If I can do it here, you can do it anywhere. A lot of public libraries have seed catalogs which will help to get you started. Helpful hints: start small — if you’ve never gardened before, start with a garden of under 100 s.f.; buy seeds or get them free from a seed catalog — do not buy individual plants for $3 or $4 apiece from a big-box store. They’re an incredible rip. Six-packs for $3 or so aren’t a bad way to go (far from great, but not terrible), but spending three bucks or more for a start is obscene. And then start saving seeds and saving money next year. (Sorry to sound so mercenary, but cost is a consideration, even with treating Mother Earth well. And I hate ripoffs.)

Much more on all this later.

For now, please meditate on how the government tortures your fellow human beings with solitary confinement.


A couple of nights ago I was talking with my longtime friend, ex-stand-up comic, and ex-bandmate, drummer extraordinaire Mick Berry. We’ve both been working on our vocals recently, but for very different reasons: me, because I’m sick of dealing with egomaniac vocalists; Micko, because he’s sick of dealing with musicians period, and wants to go out and do solo gigs playing piano and singing.

Anyway, he suggested that I do some singing and let him critique it. I panicked. Over the last year, I’ve sung several times during jobs at bars and thought nothing of it, but this spooked me: Micko actually has ears and I value his opinion; this is in stark contrast to audiences, who (god bless ’em)  tend to be way too forgiving.

Anyway, Micko finally talked me into it, and I reluctantly said, “I’ll do it as a shame-attacking exercise.”

He replied without missing a beat:,”You didn’t realize that all music performance is a shame-attacking exercise?”


“Observation: The strongest men I know — guys who deadlift over 500 pounds, run 4-minutes for the mile, throw a discuss hundreds of feet, or run ultramarathons — tend to be caring, considerate, and generally calm dudes. The guys I know who want to be strong and tough — but who are not — tend to be loud, defensive, and overly proud. Toughness isn’t walking around with your chest puffed out trying to intimidate. It’s making the right decision under uncertainty and distress. This is one of the great paradoxes of toughness. Once you have it you don’t need to show it.”

Brad Thulberg, Fake Toughness

 


Over the last few years, three close, two of them really close, friends have died of cancer and another is in remission. Two of the three died of cancer spreading after undergoing the horror of prostate removal, which did no good whatsoever — it just made their suffering worse — and my other friend died a horrible death of pancreatic cancer. A fourth still-surviving friend is in remission from non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. And still another very close, long-term friend is currently dealing with prostate cancer, which is not responding to radiation treatment.

They account for over two-thirds of my close male friends — all of them a few years younger than me. It’s heartbreaking, but they’re dead or dying.

So, how the hell do you deal with this? How can you be a decent person and support your friends while they’re suffering? And not go crazy yourself?

This is all purely personal, purely observational, but this is what I’ve concluded:

  • You can’t fix it. Admit it to yourself. Accept it.
  • Do not recommend “alternative” treatments — they’re “alternative” because they don’t work. In fact, unless you’re a medical/scientific professional, do not recommend anything — I guarantee that your cancer-suffering friends have already researched it.
  • Just be there.
  • Listen.
  • Treat them normally — not as someone to be pitied or helped. Do the most mutual, joint projects you can come up with.
  • Don’t withdraw. Continue as normal.
  • Help physically, when necessary, and try not to make it obvious you think they’re an invalid. (This pm, I went over to my bud J’s place and worked in his garden for an hour while he worked for 15 minutes — the important thing is that we both worked and I was there for him.)

Some people withdraw from friends who are dying from cancer, and that’s understandable. The reasons seem to be that the feeling of helplessness is overwhelming; the fear of personal mortality, and the reminder of it, which overwhelms decent behavior. . . . Either that or they’re empathy-empty sociopaths, like Tump, who only do favors when they anticipate return.

The lesson is that when your friends have cancer, don’t withdraw, don’t try to solve things, — and above all don’t leave them feeling all alone — just be there just listen to them. That’s all you can do; it’s not enough (nothing is). but they’ll appreciate it.

 

 

 

 


At long last we have enough suitable material for another one of these “interesting and marginally useful” posts. This one is fairly heavy on the interesting (and funny) side, so we’ll start off with the most marginally useful sites we’ve stumbled across recently.

  • If you’ve ever tried to explain to an imbecile that there’s a difference between correlation and causation, you can relax; you can forego such exercises in frustration from now on: just point imbeciles at the Spurious Correlations site. No matter how dim people are, there’s at least a chance that a 25-watt bulb will flicker to life in their craniums once they see the near-exact correlation between — my favorite — Per capita cheese consumption and The number of people who died by becoming entangled in their bedsheets in the years 2000 through 2009 (statistics from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). The Spurious Correlations site features many other such correlations; a good one is that between US spending on science, space, and technology and Suicides by hanging, strangulation, and suffocation in the years 1999 through 2009.
  • You’ve probably heard of the Dunning-Kruger effect, which is essentially the maddening phenomenon — currently on spectacular display in American politics — in which the more ignorant a person is about damn near anything, the more convinced they are that they’re knowledgeable. Psychologist David Dunning, who supplied half of the name for the effect, was recently interviewed by Vox reporter Brian Resnick. The interview bears the promising subtitle, “How to fight the Dunning-Kruger effect . . .” Unfortunately, Dunning’s advice does seem only marginally useful (those who need it most won’t take it), but it’s worth reading nonetheless.
  • We put up a post about this a month ago, but can’t resist plugging Nihilanand once again. It’s a gag/serious site concerning the criminal activity known as parenthood, and features over 100 memes, some outright hilarious. We put up one of them last month, and here’s another. (But before we go on, do check out the BBC article, “Indian man to sue parents for giving birth to him.” It’s almost as funny as the memes.)

Nihilanand meme

  • Banksy’s Dismaland is long gone, but if you missed its very limited five-week run in 2015 at an “abandoned lido” (whatever the hell that is), there are still two great photo tours of the “bemusement park”: Colossal’s “Welcome to Dismaland” and (yes) Business Insider’s “29 Photos from Banksy’s Twisted Dismaland.” (Note: “Welcome to Dismaland” is slow in loading.) Here’s one of the tour photos:

  • Finally, the Miami Herald just published (and kudos to them for not hiding behind a paywall) a piece titled “Florida is just full of weirdos,” which is a list of the supposedly ten best Florida Man Twitter posts, a Twitter feed that has over 400,000 followers, and which concerns weird news in Florida. We’d strongly disagree that these are the ten best Florida Man posts — it looks like they selected ten at random and labeled them the “best” —  though we do like the one about the dimwit who was “released from jail on an auto theft charge” and was immediately rearrested after trying to break “into another car in the jail’s parking lot . . . with a deputy behind the wheel.” If you like this sort of thing, we’d urge you to check out the Florida Man Twitter feed, which almost always has something to rival the above. The one in the current batch of tweets that caught our eye was a headline from the Florida Times-Union (in Jacksonville) reading, “Florida man kidnaps neighbor’s dog, has sex with it in his trailer,” which brings up the always pertinent question, how is it possible to kidnap a dog?

And as we’ve said before . . . Th . . . Th . . . Th . . . Th . . . Th . . . Th . . . Th . . . That’s all folks!

Porky Pig


Astounding front cover(Astounding, by Tim Nevala-Lee. New York, Dey St., 2018, $28.99, 532 pp.)

reviewed by Zeke Teflon

While the subtitle mentions Heinlein, Hubbard, and Asimov along with John W. Campbell, this is primarily a biography of Campbell centering on his activities as editor of Astounding Science Fiction (later Analog), the largest-circulation and most influential science fiction magazine in the 1940s through the 1960s; the book has a special focus on Campbell’s relationships with the authors he published, his influence on their work, and on the authors’ relationships with each other.

The level of detail in this exceedingly well documented 500-plus-page book is, well, astounding, and the amount of work Nevala-Lee did to produce it must have been equally astounding. The dust jacket copy notes that the author drew on “unexplored archives, thousands of unpublished letters, and dozens of interviews.” It shows.

This is not, however, a dry academic history. Nevala-Lee does a fine job of bringing to life the decidedly oddball quartet listed in the subtitle, along with their wives and girlfriends (some of whom did much uncredited work) and many other sci-fi authors of the time. Nevala-Lee has not, however, produced a hagiography: the portraits of all of these figures are nuanced, bringing out both their attractive and unattractive traits. The attractive traits include. in all but Hubbard, dedication to work and writing, the authors’ and Campbell’s mutual support, and in Campbell’s case a messianic belief in the transformative power of science fiction. The unattractive traits include spousal abuse and pathological lying (Hubbard), right-wing authoritarian politics (Hubbard, Campbell, and Heinlein) and denunciations of associates to the FBI as “communists” (Hubbard). (For a good dissection of Heinlein’s most authoritarian work, see Michael Moorcock’s famous takedown of Starship Troopers, “Starship Stormtroopers.”) Even Asimov, who comes off as by far the most sympathetic of the quartet, had a serious flaw: engaging in serial sexual harassment.

For those interested in cults, there’s also a great deal of material on Hubbard’s and Campbell’s formulation of dianetics — basically a rehashing of Alfred Korzybski’s tedious and trivial “general semantics” concepts along with (though they wouldn’t have known the term) abreaction therapy (which can be quite dangerous), all with a “cybernetics” overlay — and their subsequent falling out prior to Hubbard’s coming up with the term Scientology, founding of that “church,” and installation of himself as that money-making machine’s glorious leader.

This brief summation only scratches the surface, and anyone interested in science fiction and its history should have a great time delving into this well researched, well written book.

Highly recommended.

* * *

Zeke Teflon is the author of Free Radicals: A Novel of Utopia and Dystopia (pdf sample here). He’s currently working on the sequel, a nonfiction book on the seamier sides of Christianity, two compilations, and an unrelated sci-fi novel.

Free Radicals, by Zeke Teflon front cover


There’s a standard psychological list to assess psychopathic tendencies, The Hare Psychopathology Checklist. It’s a list of 20 traits common to psychopaths.

The traits are ranked on a scale of 0 to 2, with 0 being entirely absent, 1 being somewhat present, and 2 being strongly present. The Checklist ranks someone as a psychopath if their score is 30 or above out of a possible score of 40.

One of the points on the Checklist “revocation of conditional release” is entirely dependent on class status (doesn’t apply to the rich — they’re never in the system in the first place) — and another is almost entirely so, “juvenile delinquency” is almost entirely class-dependent (the rich get “diverted” and their records erased), so let’s disallow those two criteria. That leaves 18 checkpoints. Let’s see how Trump does, taking a score of 27 (75%) as indicative of psychopathy:

  • glib and superficial charm
  • grandiose (exaggeratedly high) estimation of self
  • need for stimulation
  • pathological lying
  • cunning and manipulativeness
  • lack of remorse or guilt
  • shallow affect (superficial emotional responsiveness)
  • callousness and lack of empathy
  • parasitic lifestyle
  • poor behavioral controls
  • sexual promiscuity
  • early behavior problems
  • lack of realistic long-term goals
  • impulsivity
  • irresponsibility
  • failure to accept responsibility for own actions
  • many short-term marital relationships
  • criminal versatility

My best estimate, based on abundant public evidence, is that Trump scores 33 out of 36, well up into the psychopathy range.

What’s your estimate? Why? (Please leave a comment.)

And why isn’t the press addressing the urgent matter that we have an apparent raving psychopath with his finger on the nuclear button?