How I got these scars

You want to know why I have these scars on my knee. They’re so small, how did you even notice them?

They’re surgical scars. I tore some cartilage on my knee when I was young.

There was this shark… No! They’re not bites. They’re from surgery. But my friend Bruce wasn’t so lucky.

We were swimming in the ocean. I heard a yell, a panicky yelp from Bruce’s direction. I looked over in time to see him rise out if the water for a moment, like he was standing up, but we were in over our heads. There was something with him, under the water. A shark!

Without thinking, I swam towards him to help. He was panicking, beating the water. There was already blood in the water.

I reached out to the closest limb I could touch – his right leg – as his body started to rise out if the water again. I kicked towards the shark and made contact. The skin was rough, lots of friction, and as the hard body moved my knee twisted. A sharp pain, but I barely registered it. There was a momentary tug of war, then a jerk, and I was left with a leg… calf, thigh, some hip and buttocks.

I swam back to shore, dimly aware of the senselessness of holding onto this last piece of Bruce. I crawled out onto the beach, exhausted.

I don’t know how long I laid there, but I finally came to my senses as a crowd of onlookers made way for emergency personnel marching down the beach.

I looked down at the body part next to me.  The buttocks stared back.  The man I had known as Bruce, my best friend since childhood, had become just another asshole on the beach. I stood up and limped off toward the parking lot, without looking back.

I got the surgery to fix the cartilage in my knee a couple of months later. It’s still the single most painful event of my life.

Stage Fright

Giving presentations at work has made me realize something.

I don’t actually have stage fright.

I’m simply afraid of not knowing what the fuck I’m talking about in front of other people.  It happens more often than I care to admit.

I’m perfectly able to get up and talk IF I know the subject, have some idea of what I’m going to say, and have something (anything!) to refer back to in order to help keep me on point.  Like a PowerPoint presentation, or an index card.

All these years I thought it was stage fright that gave me the dry mouth and jitters.  Now I realize that I rarely know anything about anything, and have less to say about anything, and that’s what made me nervous.  Who knew.  (Obviously not me, hardy har.)

Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect


The Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect is, simply put,

I believe everything the media tells me except for anything for which I have direct personal knowledge, which they always get wrong.  source

Formulated by Michael Crichton, is named after Murray Gell-Mann, an astrophysicist.  (said Mr. Crichton, “I refer to it by this name because I once discussed it with Murray Gell-Mann, and by dropping a famous name I imply greater importance to myself, and to the effect, than it would otherwise have.”)

Mr. Crichton explained it further in a 2002 speech, “Why Speculate?

Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect is as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray’s case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward – reversing cause and effect. I call these the “wet streets cause rain” stories. Paper’s full of them.

In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story, and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about Palestine than the baloney you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know.

That is the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect. I’d point out it does not operate in other arenas of life. In ordinary life, if somebody consistently exaggerates or lies to you, you soon discount everything they say. In court, there is the legal doctrine of falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus, which means untruthful in one part, untruthful in all. But when it comes to the media, we believe against evidence that it is probably worth our time to read other parts of the paper. When, in fact, it almost certainly isn’t. The only possible explanation for our behavior is amnesia.

RIP, Mr. Crichton.


Crime and Punishment in Modern America

This quote is so representative of the issues that divide our country.

Q. You criticize the Miranda ruling, which gives suspects the right to have a lawyer present before police questioning. Shouldn’t people, who may be innocent, have such protection?

A. Suspects who are innocent of a crime should. But the thing is, you don’t have many suspects who are innocent of a crime. That’s contradictory. If a person is innocent of a crime, then he is not a suspect.

This exchange comes from a published interview with an Attorney General of the United States and a former prosecutor.  It could have been written this week.  Instead, it’s thirty years old.  The question was posed to Edwin Meese in 1985.

A prosecutor, of all people, should know that abuses of the law by police and the legal system are common.  Innocent people have routinely been railroaded in a zeal to hold someone, anyone, accountable for crimes.  The police have a long history of deciding on a suspect and then making a case, rather than letting the evidence lead to a suspect.

Mr. Meese was strongly criticized for his words at the time, but he also had plenty of defenders then and since.  The United States has a strong authoritarian streak that sounds very appealing until people see how wrong it can go when put into practise.  Why do we keep going in so many circles before we figure out that the extremes are detrimental to ourselves?

Presidential Politics 2016

This is probably the only political statement I’ll make on the internet this year, and it’s not telling you who to vote for or pushing a particular issue in your face. I want to introduce some perspective.

Everyone is worried about the presidential election this year — will it be Trump or Clinton, I can’t vote for him and I don’t like her, if X is elected it will be a disaster for the country, what about these very fine 3rd party candidates, etc. You’re all barking up the wrong tree, you’ve forgotten how the government really works, and that the occupant of the oval office has limited powers and doesn’t really matter. What matters is the Senate, and we should be talking about senatorial candidates.

The president doesn’t install justices on the Supreme Court, judges on the Court of Appeals, or more than 6000 people onto various agencies, and the president doesn’t decide who sits in their own cabinet. The president may nominate people for these positions, but the Senate confirms those appointments. If the Senate doesn’t consent to a nominee, that nominee will not be appointed.  These appointments have lasting effects long after a presidential term is up so the appointment really matters, but the field of unappointed nominees are irrelevant.

What about the House of Representatives? Their districts are fairly gerrymandered so individual representatives aren’t all that responsive to national politics, and the House’s power is somewhat limited by design. They do play a role in budgeting and legislation, though — along with the Senate.

The president doesn’t set the federal budget, Congress does. The president does proposes a budget (and only does so because Congress can’t be bothered — by law they are supposed to make it and they can always change anything proposed by the president) but the budget is voted on and set by Congress.

You may object that “my senators are fine, and they’re not even up for election this year!” This may be true, but it’s not a good objection. We all have friends and family in other states, you can discuss the issues and candidates across the nation, and persuade them to take an interest and vote. (But never brow-beat or fight, please, that’s neither respectful or respectable.)

So in this election cycle, lets talk about the things that matter. The president isn’t one of them.