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Monday,  April 19, 2021

“Whoa-oo-who-o-o-o-oa, Listen to the Science”

Years ago a friend told me that when you’re talking to people in a group, the majority of them may not follow your words, but they will certainly “hear your music.” By this he meant that non-verbal cues would carry even if the substance of your comments doesn’t.

This effect becomes even more pronounced when most of the people you’re talking to don’t even have the basis for following your words even if they're paying rapt attention. Imagine, for example, being an epidemiologist interviewed on network news, encouraged to go into minute detail on how a virus infects a person, or how a vaccine promotes immunity.

People in the health-care sector might hear the substance of the epidemiologist’s words and find them accurate and valid.

You and I, however, would hear a lot of technobabble we can’t follow, and fall back on trusting the speaker's “music,” which may sound anxious because epidemiologists aren’t usually brilliant public speakers — especially if they’ve been selected by the network news to explain a complex medical concept.

And of course, when the science has finished speaking, the media chimes in, in the form of the interviewer, eyes wide and haunted, playing the song of fear — even if what the science just got through saying was that there was absolutely nothing to fear, and the virus/vaccine would only cause lollipops to spontaneously appear out of thin air at the exact moment you want them to.

This affords our media friends a perfect workaround for what Michael Crichton discussed when describing his “Gell-Mann Amnesia” effect, which would otherwise have medical professionals objecting to the lies the media would be putting in science’s mouth (while of course continuing to assume they’re getting everything else right). This way the knowledgeable are appeased while the rest remain subject to media fearmongering.

Maybe critical media-consumer skills should be taught to kindergarteners, and reinforced throughout the grades, and college, and as part of any continuing education that may be required for various occupations. Just to make sure it takes.




Wednesday,  April 14, 2021

Panic Breavement Syndrome

Among our friends on the Left, the events of 2020 have eclipsed Trump Derangement Syndrome in favor of Panic Bereavement Syndrome.

What, you ask, is Panic Bereavement Syndrome? It is the fear of having nothing to be afraid of.




Monday,  April 5, 2021

Same Old Song

Well, no. I mean, of course they’re not new songs, because I don’t listen to the radio — broadcast or satellite — these days, so I have no way of finding out about new music. Last time I heard a new (by my standards) song in the wild that ended up in my collection, it was an (actually older by her standards) Adele track I heard in the supermarket, back when supermarkets were playing actual songs for customers. Anyway, they’re new to my collection, but what has really changed is how I get reminded of an old favorite that I haven’t previously acquired.

See, it used to be that I’d read about a song or an artist on Dustbury, the much missed blog operated by the late Charles Hill, but when he passed away tragically in 2019 that memory jog ended. For a while after that I didn’t add much to my music collection. Once at a barbecue joint I heard a Brooks & Dunn tune I liked and decided to get, but 2020 happened and getting out to hear random songs, new or otherwise, became a rare thing.

That changed, though, because — well — 2020 happened. I started checking out music-related videos on YouTube, such as those posted by Rick Beato at first, and now also by Adam Reader, and Grady Smith.

Beato specializes in digging into the guts and gristle of great music and showing why it’s great. His lists don’t always match my opinions, but he always has good reasons to support his. Reader, as “Professor of Rock,” is more of a historian of the genre, and between him and Beato I’ve bought quite a lot of rock music (by my standards) in recent months. Grady Smith talks about country music, and actually spurred me to add to my already oversized Alan Jackson collection while also talking about a new strain of neotraditionalism in country music lately. If I can find an Atlanta-area station that plays the tunes he’s referring to, I may turn the radio on again.

However I find new music, or get reminded of old music, that I want to own, it still honors my late friend Charles, who first got me in the habit of raiding the digital music market to add to what I had already ripped from the CDs I bought in the 1990s. Others may be providing the hints now, but the original inspiration was his.




Friday,  March 26, 2021

Twistin’ the Night Away

Mrs. McG being a weather service employee, we have weather news on by default — so we were aware all day yesterday of the tornado outbreak in Alabama. And Georgia being east of Alabama, our awareness was not purely academic.

Today being a work day for her, she chose not to try to stay up in case the storms didn’t dissipate before reaching us, but I stayed up a little longer and became aware of a new tornado warning in Alabama at about 10:00 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time (9:00 p.m. CDT in Alabama) between Birmingham and Montgomery. I checked the weather radar app on my tablet and saw that the storm was in fact headed generally in our direction. I let Mrs. McG know, but didn’t worry much — severe weather in Alabama has a habit of losing energy as it crosses into Georgia. I kept watching, but only casually.

I shouldn’t have counted on the radar app to be fully up-to-date with storm warnings; just before 11:00 p.m. our time I noticed that the tornado warning associated with the storm was gone as it was still in Alabama. As a result, I went to bed. In fact, the warning was still active right up to the state line.

Both our phones erupted with alerts around 11:30 as the National Weather Service issued a tornado warning for our area and declared a tornado emergency for Newnan. At the same time, county tornado sirens sounded. They’re not intended to be audible inside homes, but we’re unusually close to one. Over the next fifteen minutes the lightning, thunder, and rain intensified at our house, and the power was interrupted twice. Mrs. McG looked outside to see whether the predicted large hail materialized here, but she saw none.

Suddenly, around midnight, the tumult ended and an eerie silence descended. We listened hard for the sound of an approaching freight train (the nearest actual railroad tracks are some miles from here, so a train actually approaching our house would be exactly what you’re thinking), poised to seek shelter. Eventually I shook off the drama and... turned on the TV.

The Weather Channel was focused on Newnan at that moment, highlighting the unique radar signature of a tornado “debris ball” in the downtown area of Newnan, and clearly not a threat to our neighborhood. I texted “We’re safe” to my brother in California, who pays almost as much attention to our weather as we do, and we settled in to watch the coverage, which eventually fizzled out as the tornadic circulation vanished from the Doppler radar well to our east at around 1:00 a.m.

Downtown Newnan got hit hard by all accounts; last night the police department was strongly advising people to stay off the street while emergency and utility crews assessed the damage and got to work. That advice is still in place this morning, and Mrs. McG and I are content to comply today. The COVID panic increased her office’s willingness to allow people to work from home, and her shift today was so scheduled weeks in advance. I have somewhere to go tomorrow, which will involve crossing the tornado’s damage path, but not through downtown.

The high school, damaged months ago by a minor tornado spawned by the carcass of Hurricane Delta, was damaged again last night, and all schools in the county are closed today. One death in Newnan has been blamed on the tornado, but I don’t currently have details. UPDATE: Fox 5 Atlanta news item

We’ve lived at the extreme eastern end of “Dixie Alley” for over 20 years, and this is the closest we’ve come to tangling with a truly dangerous tornado.

I’m ready to move to Wyoming anytime. The supervolcano will give more warning.

Update: I should not have written that last sentence above. Many years ago, as I was struggling to finally complete my undergraduate degree in Sacramento, I had an on-campus job working for the alumni foundation that ran, among other things, the campus bookstore. One day — October 17, 1989 — my supervisor and I were called up to a foundation executive’s office to hang a picture for her. Normally, hanging a picture in an executive’s office involves piercing the drywall and hanging the picture on the nail or whatever. However, the wall the executive wanted her picture displayed on turned out to be load-bearing — reinforced concrete. Fortunately my supervisor knew the building (and the executives) and had come prepared. It took considerably more effort than I had expected, but we got that picture hung.

And I turned to the executive and joshed, “When The Big One hits, your picture will stay up.” She and my supervisor were suitably amused.

The reason I remember the exact date of this incident is, later that afternoon the National League Champion San Francisco Giants were to host the American League Champion Oakland A's at Candlestick Park for Game 3 of the “Bay Bridge” World Series. That game did not start as scheduled. I swore that evening never to make jokes about natural disasters ever again.




Wednesday,  March 10, 2021

Thoughts My Brain Made

If you flunked your IQ test, don’t drive.

Governments are like compost heaps — if you don’t turn them over regularly, all they’re ever going to do is lie there and stink.

Think of institutions in general as being like dairy products — they go bad quickly and need to be replaced.




Monday,  March 1, 2021

Hubris

A utopia of 10,000 years, if one were ever to exist, would end when a new generation looks upon all the peace and prosperity bequeathed them by their elders and sneers, "We would have done it better." And once they age into power, they try, and destroy it all.

How can anyone wonder, then, that there never has been a utopia of even one generation, let alone thousands?




Wednesday,  February 24, 2021

Preserve Your Sanity: Keep It Simple

If you want to keep from driving yourself crazy “fixing” the rules to keep up with how people get around them, stop trying.

Boundaries are not there just to be boundaries. They are there to serve as warnings of potential harm to come. Let the consequence of the boundary-crossing be whatever that harm is, not some malum prohibitum tome of penalties completely unrelated to the reason the boundary is there.

You can’t protect the snowflakes forever; they have to grow up sometime. Healing up from self-inflicted bruises is a necessary part of that.




Monday,  February 8, 2021

Personal Propaganda

I write fiction too, and have even sold some. So of course I still work at it in hopes of selling some more.

In a story I’m currently writing, I needed to segue into a scene that I knew had to happen, but I was blanking on how to do it. So, I decided on some exposition — which I would ordinarily have used to illustrate the setting, or the mindset of one or more specific characters, but which this morning I decided to use instead for some philosophy. And it actually does end up leading rather smoothly into the scene:

Institutions are, by definition, corrupt – in part because they are established by mere mortals, which makes them hardly unique, but also because they are established to promote specific goals, which inevitably put them at odds with other, potentially more laudable goals. But it’s the human part that turns them inevitably toward more corruption as the institutional goals, which may one day end the need for the institution, are subverted in favor of the institution’s perpetuation.

By perpetuating the problems it was founded to solve, if necessary.

Government agencies are notorious not only for falling into this trap, but for encouraging private institutions to follow suit, including especially those institutions founded specifically to discourage this process. So naturally there have been attempts to organize society without formal government, which fell even harder. Thousands of years of civilization seem destined never to teach humanity that the fault lies not in their works, but in their selves.

Which is not to say that societies that accept corruptibility as a given and attempt to use it against itself work out any better than those that surrender to corruptibility and hope for survival of the fittest. Corruption being an absolute evil, it cannot be brought to terms – it will never negotiate in good faith, and at bad faith it always wins by experience. It is a war often lost, never won, paused unwisely only to be renewed with regret.

For all that, the fatal error of institutions is that they treat the war as a public one, when in fact it is a war that rages within each for his own soul. Were humans capable of existing in pure solitude, that war could be won, sometimes — and when not, at least the consequences of losing the war could be suffered only by the loser. But we are not, and cannot be. We are doomed ever to fight this private war in public, and to have our defeats suffered by others.

[Character Name] had often enjoyed the time to think about such weighty ideas in this job of his, but now he was confronted with the truth of his predicament, of how he was targeted to become the victim of other people’s failure to win their personal war with corruption.

Emphasis added for effect.




Friday,  January 29, 2021

“Customer Retention”

In times like these, one is confronted with the realization that there are more stupid things under the sun than are dreamt of in Horatio’s philosophy — and that which of them is actually the stupidest may never be known to man. But corporate “customer retention” practices must be damned good contenders.

If you’ve ever become dissatisfied with a service provider such as a phone company or cable TV company, and wanted to end your relationship with it, you’ve probably encountered customer retention. You find yourself talking to someone whose job is to make promises he can’t keep and won’t try to, like an abusive husband who suddenly realizes his poor, battered wife is the most important thing in his life and he’ll she’ll just diiiiiiiiie if she leaves him.

We see enough pop culture references to the battered-wife phenomenon to believe it must work for the abusive husbands. The sad thing is, these tactics must work for corporations too because no matter how much they piss off people who complain about them, they still do it.

Nor is it limited, it seems, to industries like those. I’ve just encountered it with regard to medical services, and while I’d had no particular complaints about the service I'd received (Mrs. McG had one, but only one), the change was in order to reap the full advantages of a change of doctors we had decided needed to happen. The medical practice we were quitting barely shrugged as we left, but someone from the service provider favored us with a customer retention call yesterday that makes me fear for that man’s wife, if he has one.

And now a company whose front-line personnel have always treated me pleasantly, carries the stink of the ninth circle of Hell. If circumstances ever lead me to consider returning to that provider, I will first have to find out if that man is still employed there. If he is, no dice.




Friday,  January 15, 2021

Truth Matters

...but not to Liz Cheney.

You could be tested for COVID-19, and have the result come back negative. You could be tested again, with the same result. And again, and again, and again. The Democrats in Washington would still consider you impeachable for having COVID-19.

And so would Liz Cheney, the ostensibly Republican at-large congresswoman from Wyoming.

Donald Trump’s speech before the Capitol demonstration did not incite violence, did not call for a coup, did not inspire insurrection. You can read it yourself.

A creature of the D.C. swamp can easily disregard the truth for politics. That’s what Liz Cheney has done.

This is what you call a moment of clarity.

Update, January 18: Wyoming Republicans agree.




Sunday,  January 10, 2021

To Illustrate




Friday,  January 1, 2021

Just Live

2020 is over. You don’t need a socially-approved reason or mode of life.

Give yourself a break. Just live.



 

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Original content and design © 2021 Kevin McGehee. Images and excerpts are © their respective owners.