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This post is set up to float to the top. I'm getting a bunch of new readers lately, so I figured a welcome/orientation post is appropriate.

Welcome to my journal! (Yeah, yeah, I know, the cool kids call it a blog these days.)

I post intermittently, sometimes at length, usually about personal topics, sometimes about controversial ones. I love thoughtful comments, even (sometimes especially) when they disagree with me. Anonymous comments or private messages are OK, too.

I expect politeness, though -- especially to my other commenters. If you can't be civil, be silent. If I start getting a wave of hostile anonymous commenters, I will likely change my policy.

Some links I keep here for convenience:

Calibrating therapy

(A stroke anecdote I started telling in a FB comment, but was way too long.) 

One of the things that made speech therapy (which for me was less about speech and more about repairing cognitive deficits more generally) tricky was that calibrating with therapists was not a well-established thing.

Like, it's pretty well normalized that there are athletes, and there are more sedentary patients, and there are just very different treatment modalities for the two. Physical therapists know to ask and know what to do with the answers. You don't treat professional football players the way you treat someone who maybe goes for a long walk every now and then.

But the analogous continuum for speech/cognitive therapy is, um, less normalized.

My outpatient speech therapist, in our first session together, had me do a simple logic puzzle of the "alice, bob, and carol have an abacus, some bacitracin, and a coelocanth" variety, and she asked me if I was acquainted with the type of puzzle.

"Sure," I explained. "I do them all the time." And then completely failed to be able to solve it, because I had completely lost any ability to hold two thoughts in my head simultaneously. And after a while of my sitting there, muttering things and scrawling proposition logic notation on a sheet of paper and growing increasingly frustrated, she prompted me to "draw the grid."

And I said huh?

And she drew the grid, and I blinked and said "oh! Much easier that way!" and solved it. And she looked puzzled and said "You said you've done these before... how do you do them?" And I said "What do you mean, 'how?' I look at the puzzle and... solve it?"

So we did more of them, working our way up to greater and greater complexity. Towards the end it was really an exercise in maintaining focus for long enough to complete one of the really complicated ones, and we agreed that there was probably no point to continuing along those lines, but I mentioned that the edge of deficit at that point was often when I was fatigued, so maybe we could work on simpler puzzles while I was exerting myself physically?

So we went back to the simple three-statement versions, except she would read them out loud while I used the treadmill, and I would solve them in my head. And we worked our way up to five-statement or so versions, and I said "OK. That last one feels like something I would have had trouble with before the stroke, too... I think we're done."

And she commented that during our first session, when I'd talked about being accustomed to solving these sorts of things in my head, she'd figured I was just confused... but that no, it was obvious in retrospect that I'd had a very clear idea of what my deficits were.

And I was like, well, yes! Thanks for noticing!


Comment about the Star Trek Ferengi that got out of hand.

My problem with the Ferengi is twofold. First they are a broad ethnic stereotype, and that irritates me. But leaving that aside... they had so much potential, and it was all tossed away in order to make them clowns.

I mean, I would have loved to see the Ferengi played as unrepentant physical cowards who have mastered the art of the deal in the same way that Klingons have mastered warfare and Vulcans have mastered science and philosophy... not unbeatable, but the players to beat. Ferengenar as the center of a trading nexus that spans the galaxy, alongside the Federation but distinct from it, sometimes cooperating, sometimes competing.

From time to time the Enterprise finds a new planet and it turns out the Ferengi are already there, and have started to establish trade routes, destroying the local culture by selling them matter replicators and modern medicines in exchange for local art and other things they can sell to collectors on other planets, all of which violates the Fed Prime Directive and they feel compelled to interfere with, which they're entirely capable of doing -- a couple of warning shots and the Ferengi run away -- but nobody actually wants them there.

From time to time Ferengi enemies target the Federation, offering Starfleet admirals deals they simply cannot refuse for things that they want more than anything, or creating networks of alliances that the Federation never imagined possible, requiring our heroes to pull some seat-of-the-pants heroic diplomacy to save the day... or to trade away their ethics and just shoot the fuck out of a weaker opponent.

The Romulans declared war against the Ferengi five years ago. The Romulans won. Every battle they fought, the Ferengi retreated. The Romulans occupy every Ferengi colony. In season one the Romulans occupy Ferengenar. Also, the Romulans are dealing with economic collapse and enormous social unrest. In season two the Romulan empire falls apart altogether.

There's a faction within the Federation convinced that the Ferengi are the greatest threat humanity has ever faced, and within two centuries they will control everything valuable in the Galaxy by making canny deals, destroying the Federation like they did the Romulans. From time to time our heroes have to stop an attempt by this faction to blow up the planet or something. They're increasingly unsure that this is actually a good idea, but, they're not actually at war with the Ferengi! The good guys don't do that!

So much potential. Instead we got clowns.

"Burn it down and start from scratch."

(Putting it here, because responding to the comments that make me want to say it would be unhelpful. If you think I'm responding to you, you're probably right. Please appreciate that I have moved these thoughts into my space rather than placing them in yours.)

So, I agree that some people are saying "fuck it, let's burn it down and start from scratch" with respect to my society and its many, many flaws.

Some people have been saying that as long as I've been listening... for decades, now.

For my own part, I can respect anyone who says this and has an actual plan for how to get to somewhere better and why that's more likely to succeed after all we have to work with is ashes than it is now.

I don't require a detailed plan. A fuzzy vague napkin-sketch of a plan will do. I don't have anything better, myself.

Hell, I'm even willing to respect a "we don't have to see the whole staircase, we just take the first step in faith" type of plan, as long as I believe it's coming from a place of genuine faith, rather than merely using the word "faith" as a rhetorical tool for avoiding challenge.

And some people do, and I feel like it's important to acknowledge that. I may not agree with their plans or share their faith, but they're working towards something and that is worthy of respect. But for every person I meet like that, I see a hundred who aren't building a damned thing... who just seem to want to burn it all down and leave rebuilding it as someone else's problem.

And, look, I do get that even for them, their feelings of anger and frustration and betrayal and fear are real and important and legitimate, and I try to engage with them with compassion. (I'm very bad at this. I fake it OK as long as I don't get pushed too far.) And I'm aware, intellectually, that they also deserve respect. They are dealing with something very difficult, and they are dealing with it the best that they can, and we're all being human together.

But mostly, no, I am not able to respect them.

I'm working on that.


(Caveat: this is long and rambling and doesn't really come to a satisfying conclusion and I'm not sure I'm being especially consistent and I might express opinions you condemn and I might regret writing this. Also, CW for references to rape and politics.)

So, I've been involved in a number of discussions of late about how best to handle disagreements, and something that keeps coming up is the idea that dismissing or insulting those we disagree with makes it more difficult to come to agreement with them, so it's better to be nice and polite and offer concessions and so forth.

And as a general principle, I agree with that as far as it goes.

But I also think it often gets pushed a lot further than it can legitimately go, and can easily be invoked in a self-serving and even frankly abusive way. So when I find myself reasoning this way, or when I engage with someone who reasons this way, alarm bells go off and I try to slow all the way down and pay very close attention to every step I'm taking.

("Now is when I have to listen close to every sound,
Because now is when the chorus comes around.")

I often find myself thinking about the spectrum between (on the one hand) granting concessions in exchange for getting more of what I want, and (on the other) doing what I'm told in order to avoid punishment. Between offers and threats, to put it simply.

The common wisdom is to agree with offers that get me what I want, and to ignore threats even if giving in to them gets me what I want. So given a choice of getting some X that I want at the cost of doing some Y that I'd rather not do, where I want X more than I want to avoid doing Y, I should do Y if that choice is framed as an offer, and not do Y if the choice is framed as a threat.

But it's not clear to me how to reliably tell the difference between those two things.

I mean, sure, one big difference is the other person's motivations. The desire to offer mutually beneficial trade is one thing, and the desire to threaten me into compliance is a different thing.

But I don't reliably know other people's motivations. Hell, I don't reliably know my own motivations, and I suspect that's also true of other people.

And, sure, another big difference is cultural norms. If you walk into my store and say "Wow, nice place you got here. It would be a shame if something were to happen to it. We offer a service where we help make sure nobody destroys the place, for the low price of $N/week. All the other businesses on the block have bought in, it would be a real pity if you were the only exposed shop on the block..." ...well, that's a threat, even if the reality is you are a salesperson for a legitimate security company offering me legitimate security services.

But sometimes I don't reliably know cultural norms either. If I move into a new house, and unbeknownst to me the previous owner had a tradition of beating the crap out of anyone who walked on the lawn, and I see you walking on my lawn and tell you to get off my lawn, well, that is a threat, even if I didn't intend it as one. If I'm pointing a gun at you because in my culture of origin that's a friendly gesture of greeting, that's a threat even though I didn't intend it as one. (These are deliberately silly examples, because the more realistic examples are reliably derailing.)

So, well, we do the best we can. Shared culture helps. Shared language helps. A willingness to double-check problematic inferences via a different communication mode helps. A willingness to explain cultural norms, and expect that not everyone shares them, helps. Lots of things help.

But ultimately, when I'm told that a dismissive approach to someone who doesn't agree with me will cause them to dig in their heels rather than come around to my side (with the implicit suggestion that if I approach them properly, they're more likely to be tractable), I make a judgment call as to whether that's an offer or a threat.

So, OK. I make a judgment call. And if I judge that it's a threat rather than an offer, the common wisdom is that I ignore it.

And... well, it gets really game-theoretical, really fast. Because if I expect you to follow the common wisdom then what I ought to do is frame my threats in ways that look like offers, at least superficially. I mean, there's a reason protection rackets are framed as protection rackets... even if we all know what's really going on, framing it that way lets the victims save face. In other words, it lets us pretend to be following the social norm of "stand up to threats!" while in fact giving in to threats, by pretending that this is actually an offer.

And similarly, if I expect you to frame your threats as offers, then what I ought to do is establish a social norm that certain classes of offers are to be treated as threats, no matter what. Put a different way, that there are certain offers to which it is not socially permitted to consent... illegal contracts, for example.

And if you do that, there's a countermove, and a countermove to that, and it's turtles all the way down. We've been playing this game over evolutionary time-scales. Some strategies for playing it are coded into our DNA or built deep into our cultures, so deep we're not necessarily even aware we're playing. We're just doing what comes naturally.

So, OK. There's that.

A third possibility (besides offer and threat) is prediction.

That is... if you tell me I have to buy a new water heater or my house will burn down, you might be implicitly threatening arson or you might be evaluating my water heater. If you tell me that if I don't dress more modestly someone might lose control and rape me, you might be evaluating my clothes or you might be implicitly threatening rape. If you tell me my party will lose the election in November if we don't support your candidate, you might be engaging in impartial political analysis or you might be threatening to sabotage my party's campaign.

And here again, the common wisdom is that we should act on the basis of reliable predictions, but not act on the basis of threats, so it's best for me to frame my threats as predictions, and once again we're off to the game-theoretical races.

And there's a lot of variations on a theme.

So, I'm really not sure what to do with all this, other than bemoan the fact that I don't belong to a more elegantly designed species.

I mean, in general I'm comfortable with the idea that it's simply not my place to tell other people what or how to think. What I try to do instead is to talk about how and what I think, and when I'm confused about that, to talk about my confusion.

But... well, that third part is hard to do. The difference between thinking about confusion, and confused thinking, is... er... catfish. You know?

I am, in general, uncomfortable with game-theoretical interactions that require that I be deceptive about my motives and experiences, or that motivate me to be skeptical about other people's assertions about their motives and experiences. And the way I deal with that discomfort is usually to assert as a matter of policy that I treat people's accounts (including my own) of our individual motives and experiences as honest but not definitive. If we say we aren't sexist, I believe as a matter of policy that we're sincere, but ultimately it just doesn't matter very much... we're still part of the systems we're part of, and those systems do what they does.

Which is, I recognize, evasive, in that sometimes people aren't sincere, and the difference matters, and my policy flatly refuses to engage with that.

But still,it's what I usually do.

And essentially what that forces me to do is reject the conventional wisdom, and stop worrying so much about trying to classify things as threats and offers and predictions, and instead try to be more directly consequentialist and less deontological. That is... less "threats are bad, we reject them; trade offers and predictions are good, we accept them" and more "OK, so what do I expect to happen if I accept this? What do I expect to happen if I reject this?"

Of course, the answer to those questions is usually "I dunno." Which means I often dither ineffectually.

But, there are some general principles I try to follow, as a matter of policy, as kind of consequentialism-shortcuts (which I expect is how deontological rules got started in the first place, before they got spun off into their own self-reinforcing thing).

For example, if I am in a position of power with respect to you, I try to treat all ambiguous overtures on my part as threats, and all ambiguous overtures on your part as non-threats.

For example, if we are competing, I try to treat all overtures as attempts to improve the initiator's competitive position.

For example, I try to articulate general principles that underlie my choices, which I would continue to endorse even if the particulars of the situation were very different.

With respect to that last one... the fundamental attribution fallacy comes up a lot in this space. That is, the tendency to treat your mistakes as expressions of your fundamental flaws, and my mistakes as expressions of the situation I'm in. And I see that as pretty basically opposed to the search for general principles.

I mean, for example, I get how listening to my opponents be dismissive of my position can encourage me to double down on my position and embrace intransigence, whereas a more polite and understanding approach to our differences can encourage me to hold my position more loosely.

For example, I agree completely that many Sanders supporters might react this way to the Clinton campaign and its supporters... indeed, are reacting this way, as much of the "Bernie or Bust" rhetoric demonstrates. (No, not yours, of course, whoever is reading this... _you_ adopt that position for entirely consistent and principled reasons, which I endorse and applaud. I mean the _other_ people.)

Also, I know a lot of Clinton supporters who feel like they've spent months listening to their Sanders-supporting friends going on and on about how "Bernie" is the ONLY moral choice, how "Shillary" or "Killary" or whatever is a warmonger and a Republican and will destroy the country and the planet, and how anyone who supports her is a dumb and awful "Hillbot" who can't be trusted to make their own decisions based on data, and are just so fucking SICK of it that they are no longer remotely interested in being polite or friendly; they're going to double down on their position and embrace intransigence.

So... I can respect a position that says that everyone involved is embedded in a common moral framework and accountable for our choices within that framework. Or that everyone involved is accountable for our choices proportional to various other things, like how much power we have to make different choices, or how much we benefit from those choices, or something like that. (In general this is my preferred approach, though I don't entirely reject the others.)

And I can respect a position that says that everyone involved is responding to something and we should all cut each other some slack and give up caring so much about accountability.

OTOH, I can't respect a position that holds one group accountable for both the things they do and the things others do in response, while not holding other groups accountable for either, where agency and benefits and etc. are comparable.

So, for example, if you want to argue that we ought not hold your son accountable for the rape he committed, but you also want to argue that we should hold other criminals responsible for their crimes, even though your son had at least as much freedom of choice as they did... yeah, no, fuck you, actually.

Anyway. That's where I am right now.

...and it isn't mine at all!

(In a discussion about addiction, a FoaF asked me "So, if someone continually decides to gamble and becomes addicted to gambling, it is not their fault?" I decided to capture my response here, with minor edits.)

(shrug) Maybe it's their fault. Maybe it's not. Maybe it depends.

What I'm saying is that regardless of whose fault it is, if a person needs help. I can either help them, or not. And that choice is on me.

This isn't unique to gambling. I mean, if someone goes on a hike in the mountains and falls and breaks their leg, is that their fault? Well, I guess, sure. I mean, if they hadn't chosen to hike in the mountains, or if they'd been more careful where they put their feet, or whatever, they wouldn't have broken their leg.

But so what? The important thing isn't whose fault it is. The important thing is that they're stuck in the mountains with a broken leg.

We either help, or we don't. That's the choice that matters now.

And, sure, if we don't want to help people, one way to make ourselves feel better about that choice is to talk about how it's their own fault. "If they hadn't gambled so much they wouldn't be addicted in the first place," we tell ourselves. "If they hadn't used heroin they wouldn't be addicted." "If they hadn't hiked in the mountains their leg wouldn't be broken." "If she hadn't walked through that dangerous neighborhood wearing that dress..." "If he'd worn proper protective gear..."

If they hadn't, if they'd only, etc. "So it's your fault! Yes it's your fault! And it isn't mine at all!" And so we can let them suffer and die without helping, and still feel like decent human beings, because after all it's their own damn fault.

And we get to do that. But we should also hope that when bad things happen to us, other people don't do that, because often the bad things that happen to us are our own fault.

For example... I had a stroke in 2008. If I'd properly medicated my blood pressure in 2007, I probably wouldn't have had a stroke. Fortunately for me, when it happened people helped me anyway.

Into the White House, part 3...

(It's Super Tuesday! VOTERS enter left and right, fleeing pursuers, then exit. RUBIO and CRUZ enter, pursuing.)

[RUBIO] Did I confuse them
Or show my disdain?
Why do they run from me?
If I can't use them
Then how shall I gain
First place in the primary?

Maybe I'll give a speech?
There's just one thing I want,
But the numbers are out of my reach.

[CRUZ] This is absurd,
I'm competing for third
And can't even the score!
In Texas I'm grinning,
But still Trump is winning
With 254!


It completely frustrates
When they don't seem to go for you
In more than two or three states.

[BOTH] Primaries!
Oh, the torture they teach!

[CRUZ] What's as intriguing...

[RUBIO] ...or half so fatiguing...

[BOTH] ...as what's out of reach?

[RUBIO] Am I not arrogant, young and Hispanic, attractive and anti-choice, wealthy, abusive to Hillary, well-thought of by Rome?

[CRUZ] You are everything voters could wish for!

[RUBIO] Then why no-?

[CRUZ] Do I know?

[RUBIO] They all must be mad!

[CRUZ] You know nothing of madness
'Till you're watching the polls and you see him,
Up there, nowhere near him,
And all the while hearing him:

Blah, blah-blah, blah-blah, blah-blah, blah-blah, blah-blah, blah--

[BOTH] Primaries!

[CRUZ] Delegates!

[BOTH] Though it's different for each.

[RUBIO] Always ten states behind --

[CRUZ] Ninety delegates below --

[BOTH] And he's just out of reach.
We can't win, we admit!

Oh well... maybe he'll quit?

Into the White House, part 2...

(BILL and HILLARY are waving goodbye as TRUMP heads off onto the campaign trail with a basket of goodies. Evidence of a conspiracy, perhaps? Moments later, a knock is heard.)

[BILL] Who might that be?

[HILLARY] We've recruited our last superdelegate!

[BILL] (looking) It's the socialist from Vermont.

[HILLARY] We have no superdelegates to spare.

[SANDERS] I don't want your superdelegates... not now, anyway.

[BILL] Then what --

[HILLARY] Then what is it you wish?

[SANDERS] It's not what I wish, it's what you wish.
Not enough voters to win against a third-party challenge from your left, are there? And there will never be, unless you do exactly as I say. In five months time a convention will occur. Only then can the Law be undone...

[HILLARY] What Law?

[SANDERS] The one that threatens the Democrats.

[BILL] What are you --

[HILLARY] What are you talking about?

[SANDERS] In the past, when you were no more than a First Lady, your husband brought his young mistress and you to the White House. He was a good President, but not a good progressive. You see, your husband was a centrist, and he alienated the left wing of his party, who developed an unusual appetite. They admired my democratic socialist paradise and told Ralph Nader that what they wanted more than anything in the world was for him to run as a Green, a Green, nothing but a Green!
California, Illinois, Florida and Texas, Colorado, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York -!
He said, "All right,"
But it wasn't, quite,
'Cause he got three million votes or so, spoiling the fight!
And your V.P. cried
When the vote was tied.
And when Bush was elected --
I admit it was expected --
They all learned Duverger's Law applied.

And it taught a little lesson to them --
You, too, chum --
So a threat from the left
Would always be an effective one.

[BILL] How could --
[HILLARY] Would you do that?

[SANDERS] Your husband was no progressive so why should I expect you to be?

(Meanwhile, in Kasich's campaign headquarters...)

[KASICH] Why do I have to campaign outside of Ohio?

[KASICH'S CAMPAIGN MANAGER] Because everyone in Ohio knows you haven't had a new idea in months.

[KASICH] That's cheating!

[KASICH'S CAMPAIGN MANAGER] We're losing, John! Don't you understand that? Now, you're not to win less than five percent of the vote. Are you listening to me?


[KASICH'S CAMPAIGN MANAGER] How much are you to win?

[KASICH] No more than five percent.


[KASICH] Than five!

Onto the trail, the time is now,
We have to win, I don't care how.
Get all the votes your skills allow,
You must begin the journey!
Talk to the voters and feed them crap:
If we're to make at least third place
You'll have to pile it high and deep!

[KASICH] Maybe they'll ask me to be their veep?

(Back in the Democrats' lair)

[SANDERS] You wish Duverger's Law repealed?
I want to change the playing field.

Go to your campaign manager and bring me back
One: a national $15 minimum wage,
Two: a return of Reagan-era top marginal tax rates,
Three: reinstate the Glass-Steagall Act,
Four: oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Go public with these before the day
Of July 25 in Philly PA.
Tis' then the DNC convenes,
Full of my supporters with 'shillary' memes.

(VOTERS appear, waving signs with insulting messages about Hillary)

But bring them and I guarantee,
A campaign as smooth as a campaign can be.

(SANDERS departs, as do the VOTERS, some of whom discard their signs)
(BILL starts picking up the signs)

[BILL] Memes?
These must be Sanders' memes!
We'll take them with us.


[BILL] Yes!

You're not running.
It's not your campaign.

[BILL] I can help you!

I can do this on my own.
The campaign is in my name.
Only I can run the campaign,
The campaign is in my name.

[BILL] No, no, the campaign is in _our_ name.
We must run the campaign together,
The campaign is in our name!

[HILLARY] Now tell me what am I to return with?

[BILL] Ugh, You don't remember?
The wage of fifteen bucks,
The tax rate from eighty-five,
The banking investment ban,
Opposing the TPP --

[HILLARY] The wage of fifteen bucks,
The tax rate from eighty-five,
The banking investment ban,
Opposing the TPP...

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