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Old 01-29-2018, 01:31 PM   #1
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Notes to myself

I keep wanting to post things on 2+2 but not really wanting to post them in the appropriate places, or not being able to keep up with conversations in fast moving forums. So now I'm going to start posting random thoughts here for my own amusement. Some will be less random, MMMV.

***

I chipped a front tooth this weekend. Now I look like a retired (read: fat) hockey player.

Also a couple weeks ago we bought a cake at a charity auction for a women's scholarship fund at the university, and it was really good, but I swear just looking at that cake made me gain half a pound so I paid $125 to gain like 6 pounds, because I also ate it.

Also also I should have sold my .023 BCH the day I realized I had it and it was worth like $85 and now it's only worth like $40. Sad!

Then when I was nursing my not-quite-a-hangover this morning and thinking about my extra 6 pounds of cake-fat I saw that Federer (one year older than me!) won the Australian Open and I openly wept into my latte at the bar at the coffee shop.
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Old 01-29-2018, 02:20 PM   #2
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Re: Notes to myself

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So now I'm going to start posting random thoughts here
Am enjoying so far Welcome to the blog section!
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Old 01-29-2018, 07:38 PM   #3
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Re: Notes to myself

Book Review: Evidence, by Howard S. Becker (2017)

I've wanted to talk about this book somewhere for a while, but never found a good spot to do so. And then I realized it's kind of a frustrating book anyway?

On the one hand, I really enjoyed it. Becker is like the Feynman of social science writing: his style is so down to earth and he manages to explain everything without the faintest whiff of unnecessary jargon, while still being very precise and insightful. He's a pleasure to read, and I also enjoyed his other book, Tricks of the Trade for similar reasons. Like Tricks of the Trade, Evidence is a book about social science research methods, a topic I find very intriguing. On the other hand, this book was frustrating because it seems like the largest (but almost implicit?) conclusion of the book is that there are a lot of correctable methodological problems in social science research, but fixing them would be really, really expensive. So that's great, I'm sure NSF will be stepping up funding for that any time. Thanks for the tip :P

Even though it's very basic, one one my favorite things in the book is just the simple way he conceptualizes methodological problems as involving the interactions between data, evidence, and ideas, which are the major conceptual categories he works with. None of his treatment should be surprising to anyone with a science background, but I think the clarity of it helps bring some of the issues he wants to discuss into focus, mainly in the often problematic relationship between the three things. He introduces all this in the context of discussing research from the 60s into how social class affected children's school performance, where researchers assessed social class by asking children what their fathers did for a living. Becker writes:

Quote:
How does this apply to Wallin and Waldo [the researchers]? They wanted to offer their data -- the answers student wrote on the questionnaires -- as evidence of the work the fathers actually did, to present the students' testimony about their father's employment as a reality we could count on as support for ideas they had about the larger, complex reality the words "social class" allude to, ideas they wanted their readers to accept....

They realized that their data couldn't plausibly support whatever they had hoped to say about social class, class cultures, education, and aspects of child socialization. The evidence they had intended to present was fatally flawed by the unarguable fact that 22 percent of the children hadn't given them the information they needed to make such arguments plausible -- because when you don't know how to classify almost a quarter of the people furnishing the data, when you don't know which group to count them in, no differences in all those other things your ideas suggest were related to social class can be trusted.... Wallin and Waldo saw that they didn't have plausible evidence for the fine-grained arguments they had hoped to be able to make about class and culture and all the rest of it.

That's why they were perturbed. But they gave us even more reason to worry, because they found only one article in the entire sociological literature in which any of the many researchers who had studied similar problems with similar methods mentioned any such difficulty...
And the majority of the book deals with similar issues, the problems related to figuring out how to collect data that can plausibly act as evidence to support explanatory ideas that researchers have in mind. From problems with censuses and other quantitative methods to problems with hired-hand research assistants and data gatherers. Along the way he also tells a number of stories about researchers who, having run into these difficulties, found either very ingenious (if labor-intensive) ways to improve their data, or else found in the difficulties new research questions. So that's one solution: if you can't answer the question you want to answer, the attempt might lead you to some other problem you can answer. The other "solution" in most cases tended to look like "you could pull this off if you had a team of 100 more people and an extra million dollars".

All of it was interesting, and probably worthwhile to anyone who is interested in trying to assess the validity of the kinds of studies you see cited in news reports. I was also secretly hoping to get some kind of ammunition to use in internet debates with people who respond to social science citations with blanket dismissals of the entire field (a pet peeve!) but it didn't help much there :P It would probably give as much ammunition to critics. Which is good, in a way. I appreciate the value of Becker's criticism, much more so because he actually knows what he's talking about. But hence the frustration also, because if someone as smart and experienced as Becker can't really come up with more general solutions to improve the quality of research in the field, absent some pretty big changes in science funding priorities, then that feels at least slightly bleak. Which isn't to say the whole field should be thrown out, but it made me appreciate the scope of the problems a little more.
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Old 01-31-2018, 11:43 AM   #4
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Re: Notes to myself

Went to a new discussion group with the wife yesterday. I'm not sure how to describe it. A vaguely religion/philosophy/big-questions-themed discussion group with mostly people from the local Methodist church, but half of the attendees were non-Christians and it sort of sounds like the start of a joke: a sociologist, an anthropologist, a philosopher, a computer programmer, and a Methodist pastor walk into a bar...

It was actually a lot of fun. Topics included the meanings of αἰώνιος (eternal?) and παντοκράτωρ (almighty?), the transition from nomadic to agrarian societies and its impact on religious ritual (never invite an anthropologist), the Venus of Willendorf, eastern vs western Christian soteriology, and... Trump. LDO. I almost baited the philosopher into a discussion about the is/ought distinction, but he resisted admirably.
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Old 01-31-2018, 05:14 PM   #5
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Re: Notes to myself

While the dentist and assistant were arguing about what color would match the coffee stains for my new prosthetic front tooth I tried to convince them to go with a nice shade of fuchsia instead, and maybe shape it like some kind of cool serpent topiary, but apparently they don't do that here.

But at least now I look like a retired (read: fat) hockey player who got some work done before starting his new job as a play by play man.
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Old 01-31-2018, 07:58 PM   #6
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Re: Notes to myself

Where are the before and after pics, or are you leaving us to our imaginations?
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Old 01-31-2018, 08:06 PM   #7
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Re: Notes to myself

You should recall that oldest and wisest of internet aphorisms: what has been seen cannot be unseen.
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Old 02-01-2018, 12:25 PM   #8
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Re: Notes to myself

We were binge-watching BBC British history shows last night, which I enjoy mostly to see -- in absolutely every episode no matter the topic and without fail -- what costumes will Lucy Worsley wear?
Episode begins: it's the history of the British living room since medieval times.

Me: "how is she going to wear a living room?"

Later: Lucy Worsley in 17th century costume in 17th century living room...
So I started to worry. I casually know more British history than American history. Is that bad? Why doesn't the Discovery Channel replace one of those stupid shows about aliens with some breezy and colorful histories of American culture? Olive-drab WW2 documentaries on the History Channel do not count.

And then that got me thinking about cultural/political fragmentation or polarization in the US, and so on. I wonder what role pop-culture pieces like those BBC history shows have in maintaining a kind of cultural solidarity that is politically/socially useful? By useful I mean leads to better outcomes for more people.

This reminded me of an interesting panel at the ASA last year which I didn't see in its entirety, but which began with a speaker setting up a conversation with the premise that the creation of most, if not all, modern social welfare states was associated with various kinds of nationalisms, and that it was the fostering of national identities (and associated cultural solidarity) which, at least historically, seemed to be a necessary foundation for the creation and maintenance of those institutions. The core idea being more or less that people tolerate social programs whose benefits are felt to be intended for in-groups, where in and out correspond to national identity. This seems more or less incontestable to me as a matter of history, but the obvious downside of course is that "national identities" have also historically tended to be ethnic identities, and so the cultivation of larger "national" in-groups has invariably been associated with various kinds of ethnocentrism, racism, and discrimination against out-groups in general, anti-immigration sentiment, and so on. The speaker's question then was something like: is it possible to create the kind of solidarity which is necessary for broad modern social welfare states without ethno-nationalism, and how might we help bring that project along?

So, back to the BBC history show, I wonder if it comes off the same way to a British citizen of Indian descent, for example. I was thinking of it as a vehicle for expressing and reinforcing shared identity, and the potential value in that, but I guess it doesn't necessarily work that way for everyone, nor would an American equivalent focusing on the lives of European immigrants in the US (in the way that these BBC specials tend to be focused on English history in particular).

It seems like a difficult problem. Properly speaking, "ethnicity" (vs. race) entails shared history and culture, so conceptually it's probably incoherent for me to formulate this as "nationalism without ethnic identity". It's more like, how do you create new and more inclusive ethnic identities? A British identity which isn't exclusively Anglo-Saxon, or an American identity which isn't de facto white? How do you foster a sense of shared identity, history, and consciousness when the shared history is, at best up until very very recently, a history mostly of domination and oppression? And yet it seems clear that the present divides in American culture and politics have a lot to do with this problem, although obviously not every American cultural divide fits neatly in this scheme (religious differences maybe? Urban/rural cultural differences don't reduce to ethnic identity, etc.)

I guess the other idea is I think implicitly at least progressives (I'm counting myself) tend to respond to nationalism as an idea by thinking that we should just think bigger? Why should shared identity be limited by imaginary political borders? But even leaving aside tendencies towards in-group/out-group biases it seems difficult to imagine people forming in-groups which include people they have no social connection to whatsoever. Whereas forming more inclusive in-groups across racial/cultural boundaries with people we live closer to seems at least plausible (segregation, both racial but also urban/rural seems indicated as a cause here. We live nearby but we don't really interact...)

That's probably enough rambling for now.
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Old 02-02-2018, 05:20 PM   #9
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Re: Notes to myself

I get to take a free class every Semester because I'm married to a member of the faculty. So I'm taking a Public Speaking class. It's fun. I'm terrible at public speaking, it's good practice. And I can't take college students seriously enough to be intimidated by them, so it's easier than in some other context.

But our next little speech is supposed to involve celebrating someone who is one of our heroes. That was all well and good, I thought, I can talk about any of a large number of happily dead people who I find inspiring, no fuss no muss. But then plot twist! It has to be someone in the community and we have to interview them. Death suddenly seems very inconvenient. I'll be ****ed if I know anyone I could actually get an interview with who is a hero to me. Does the instructor now know that I am a cynical ******* with no social life and a jaundiced view of human nature? I've never felt more like Zeno.
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Old 02-02-2018, 05:36 PM   #10
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Re: Notes to myself

Interview a brew pub owner.
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Old 02-02-2018, 05:38 PM   #11
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Re: Notes to myself

I find your ideas intriguing and would like to subscribe to your newsletter
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Old 02-03-2018, 05:53 PM   #12
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Re: Notes to myself

Quote:
Originally Posted by well named View Post
...........snip..............

[Below is enough context]

But our next little speech is supposed to involve celebrating someone who is one of our heroes. That was all well and good, I thought, I can talk about any of a large number of happily dead people who I find inspiring, no fuss no muss. But then plot twist! It has to be someone in the community and we have to interview them. Death suddenly seems very inconvenient. I'll be ****ed if I know anyone I could actually get an interview with who is a hero to me. Does the instructor now know that I am a cynical ******* with no social life and a jaundiced view of human nature? I've never felt more like Zeno.
[My bold]


First, heroes are for people with mediocre minds (Respect is useful, hero stuff is juvenile). Don't fall into that trap. And yes, what the instructor is purposing with the assignment is ludicrous.

As to the part I bolded; I've also never felt more like Zeno myself.
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Old 02-03-2018, 06:10 PM   #13
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Re: Notes to myself

I like the title of your blog. Marcus Aurelius would also approve, I think.

Glad you are here in the quiet backwater, free, so far, from the dizzy crowd of morons and world savers that spew nothing but a harsh cacophony of gibberish that pollute much of the forums. Marcus had wise words about dealing with that kind of people.
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Old 02-04-2018, 01:10 AM   #14
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Re: Notes to myself

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First, heroes are for people with mediocre minds
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Old 02-04-2018, 02:39 PM   #15
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Re: Notes to myself

We're having the philosophy/religion discussion group again this week, which I'm going to start calling "the salon" in order to maximize pretentiousness. Last week we met in a conference room in the Anthropology building, which was perfectly serviceable except for one fatal flaw: it's a dry campus. I firmly believe that discussions of bull**** should have a two drink minimum, so this week we're going to meet in our living room, and I will hand out libations as people walk in.

Speaking of intoxication, the topic for this week is going to be mysticism. Reading texts from mystical traditions used to be a bit of a hobby of mine. As opposed to practicing those traditions (Author of text: LOL ur doin it wrong. Me: Shut up you died in the 11th century). So I was going back through some dusty old tomes yesterday looking for quotes that I'm fond of. Stuff like:

Quote:
What cannot be thought with the mind, but that whereby the mind can think: Know that alone to be Brahman, the Spirit; and not what people here adore.
-- Kena Upanishad (Juan Mascaró's translation)
One of my favorite sources for obscure aphorisms cherry picked from a variety of traditions is Raimon Panikkar (especially The Rhythm of Being), so I was flipping through that, and this section in the introduction struck me again, especially in relation to the question of remaining distant "from the dizzy crowd of morons":

Quote:
In a world of crisis, upheaval, and injustice, can we disdainfully distance ourselves from the plight of the immense majority of the peoples of the world and dedicate ourselves to "speculative" and/or "theoretical" issues? Do we not thereby fall prey to the powers of the status quo, which, in some countries at least, are willing to leave the intellectuals in peace provided they do not upset the System? Can we really do "business as usual" in a world in which half of our fellow beings suffer from man-made causes? Is our theory not already flawed by the praxis from which it proceeds? ...

Is this not merely regression to a pre-scientific and pre-critical attitude? Is indulging in speculation about such seemingly impractical ideas not a betrayal of those who still expect some saving power from humanistic studies?
I always feel like i'm stung by these kinds of points, which hit pretty close to home for me. Nevertheless, I think his answer about the continuing importance of something like a philosophical or religious approach to "big questions" is interesting and compelling to me. In the same way that Geertz's conception of religion as a fruitful exchange between a way of life (ethos) and a worldview (mythos) is compelling. Panikkar writes:

Quote:
Neither an accurate analysis of the ills of the world nor a violent attack against the unjust status quo will be truly effective. Need we say that all of the saints and prophets have failed? If they preached an earthly paradise, it has not come to be even after at least six thousand years. No Messiahs sacred or profane have delivered the goods. If those prophets preached otherworldly compensations or offered karmic explanations, such teachings have lost credibility for the majority....

Archaic man had an orientation in life. Life was not easy or at the service of the individual. The world was perhaps even more a "vale of tears" than for some of our contemporaries, but it all had a meaning, a coherent narrative, an intentionality. This meaning was cosmic, indeed theocosmic...

Historical Man has tried to put human destiny into human hands. For a long while now, people have lived under the myth or spell of history, which is seen as the unfolding of the highest intelligence, the field of dharma, the anteroom of the city of God, the manifestation of the Spirit, or even the triumph of the fittest. Human life is seen as a struggle for the future, as a search for a place in history, even if in a low key....

Both myths have collapsed. Eternal returns, kalpas, cosmic liturgies, axes mundi, and the like become less and less plausible, even for those who still live in such cultural universes. The manifestation of God in History, the universal democracy, the value of the individual, and the meaningfulness of history are no longer readily credible. Marxism may have been the last intellectual effort to rescue human optimism in history.

What, then, is a plausible narrative for humanity today?
I don't know the answer to that question, but I am struck by it's importance. Not just in a religious key but even purely from an anthropological/sociological perspective (re: nationalism and cultural solidarity?)

I guess one thing I find appealing about the more mystical religious traditions is they manage to find something like an answer to the question without quite as easily falling into some of the traps involving dogmatic rigidity, or fear/antagonism towards the "other". Even if it's still bull**** :P
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Old 02-06-2018, 11:41 AM   #16
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Re: Notes to myself

Productivity is such a fickle beast. I did all the things in January. So far February feels like I need ritalin or something.
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Old 02-06-2018, 02:02 PM   #17
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Re: Notes to myself

On the other hand, my drumming is getting better :P
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Old 02-07-2018, 10:01 PM   #18
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Re: Notes to myself

I'd like to take a moment to thank the creators of our glorious simulation for the existence of alcohol.

Unrelated (or is it?):

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Old 02-07-2018, 11:39 PM   #19
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Re: Notes to myself

Quote:
I'd like to take a moment to thank the creators of our glorious simulation for the existence of alcohol.
A few people got in ahead of you, e.g., The God Bacchus (the statute below is in the Vatican, I think. Very appropriate)


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Old 02-09-2018, 12:57 PM   #20
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Re: Notes to myself

When I drink, I am happy. When the Creators of Our Glorious Simulation drink, they **** with us.

To wit: the university library has a requisitions form that's intended to be used by faculty, but because of the overwhelming competence of the IT department is completely open to anyone to use. The form requires you to fill in your name and department, along with the details of the request. Then an email goes to the department for approval. Yesterday my wife gets some weird emails from the library asking about some books on abortion she requested. And she's like, uhhh, what? Someone filled out the form with her first name (no last name), picked her department, and requested some books.

It didn't seem malicious really, like someone who was trying to harass her could have been way more creative with the book titles, the comment, etc. But it was weird. The combination of correct first name and department felt like it probably wasn't a coincidence, but why was someone trying to order her books on abortion? Did she piss off a fundie in class? Sociology does sometimes annoy some of the students, but that is like the one controversial social issue she doesn't really ever discuss. Much consternation was had.

Turns out, nope, it was just a student with the same first name, looking for research material, who picked the department because she thought it was the the right category for the books.

That's some good trolling, oh simulation runners.
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Old 02-11-2018, 04:20 PM   #21
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Re: Notes to myself

I thought this piece by Conor Friedersdorf on thinking about policy preferences from the angle of "equilibriums" and "limits" was pretty interesting. Not so much in terms of trying to triangulate between opposing sides on any of the issues discussed, but just that way of thinking about problems.
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Old 02-12-2018, 04:48 PM   #22
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Re: Notes to myself

I love Penny Arcade. Especially Tycho's writing.

Quote:
There is pretty clearly a disconnect between the audience for online content and the platforms that host that content. The audience is fairly clear on this point: they’re rewarding the most extreme content they can find with viewership and direct dollars. It’s true on YouTube and it’s true on Twitch. People always think that when you make a statement of observable fact you’re supporting whatever it is, which is nonsense - we can’t grapple with things unless we name them clearly. So, let me name it: Trolls are the new Punk. You can recognize this or you can be wrong and I honestly don’t care which one you choose. Next you can disagree with me about the atomic weight of hydrogen. See where it gets you. Look, I’m not happy about it. Let’s hate this together.

I was reading the Wikipedia entry on Punk, and I was like… Writing a Wikipedia entry on Punk is probably the least Punk thing there is. Sure, maybe that’s what it meant in a specific time - ironically, or maybe just factually, it’s a very conservative, victors-writing-history sort of affair. Punk is not a type of hair. Punk is that which gnaws at the roots of Yggdrasil. So if the new countercultural force looks like Logan Paul, this eighties movie bully looking mother****er, and if norms have shifted to the extent that utterly mainstream individuals look like punks did, well, now you know what it means to live too long.
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Old 02-13-2018, 04:41 PM   #23
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Re: Notes to myself

So I have to give my hero speech tomorrow. I had picked a subject (a local political activist) which I was happy enough with, and I had sort of assembled all the raw material and rough outline last week, but it wasn't quite working. I had no real plan for how to fix it.

Until 30 minutes ago. While driving to the hardware store to buy a new flush handle for a toilet which broke this morning, because of course that's going to break the day you have company coming over in the evening. Anyway, as is its wont, my brain has apparently been working on this problem for the last few days without telling me, and so we had this little chat

Me: Brain, you should come up with something a little better for that speech or I'm going to be embarrassed by 19 year olds
Brain: Oh? Did I forget to tell you? Here's an outline that's way better than the one you made
Me: Dude, I'm driving, please write that down when we get home
Brain: If you get me a cheeseburger I'll think about it.

Not that it's going to be a good speech or anything, but at least it feels deliverable now. And it has to be better than the one yesterday in which Frat Bro A described how Frat Bro B was his hero.
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Old 02-13-2018, 06:44 PM   #24
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Re: Notes to myself

The unconscious mind can work wonders.

I find it disconcerting that you picked "a local political activist". A rather shameful entry IMO but it may prove a wise choice given the audience. I would have chosen Vladimir Putin. A much more illustrious figure that would also provide a grand challenge to convince others of being a hero. But you learn more that way and have a healthy bit of spadework to undertake.

Will the audience have ready vegetables at hand? Will this be a repeat of some of those great speeches and outcomes as recorded in many P.G. Wodehouse novels? Will you get what you deserve? Justice (or injustice) is very fickle at times given the predilections of many audiences, so I suggest you be fleet of foot if that becomes necessary.
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Old 02-13-2018, 06:55 PM   #25
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Re: Notes to myself

You forget that we had to actually talk to the subject. I think I said that right? Maybe I didn't. I'm not scrolling up. Otherwise my original plan was to talk about Richard Feynman cracking safes at Los Alamos.

My audience will be too busy sleeping to attack me, I imagine.
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