My Creepy People Models

Bunny Slippers and Personality TypesTo some extent, I think that the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is a load of crap. But then, I think that of just about all tests. Still, these tests can be really helpful in understanding oneself. I test as an INTP (introversion, intuition, thinking, perception). As I’ve gotten older, that “thinking” part has become much less extreme and now I sometimes test as “feeling” instead. This is clearly part of the vagaries of the test. While it is certainly true that I’ve gotten more in touch with my feelings as I’ve gotten older, thinking is still primary.

Let me give you an example, which may creep some of you out if you aren’t of my type. I create mental models of every person I meet. It’s not like a hobby, I just do it automatically and I always have. One of the great delights of my life is when someone I know breaks my model. I immediately begin creating a new model for that person. Most people never break my initial model. The really complex ones do it once. But there is one guy who I went to college with named Mark. He broke my model three times. And I think that makes him the most interesting man in the world, regardless of what beer he drinks.

I fully admit that I’m not a very observant person. But when it comes to little things, I am often shockingly observant. Many people have observed that I won’t notice the most obvious thing in the world but I will notice some little thing they never would have. It’s a little like autism, but let’s not dwell on that. (Although I’m an excellent driver!) So when I make my models of people, they aren’t based on the big picture. I just grab hold of a bunch of little things and try to synthesize them. It is heavily weighted toward the questions that people ask and how they ask them.

Many years ago, I was at a dinner party with David Griffiths. I knew of him because he wrote a very popular intermediate level electromagnetism book that I quite liked. At the party, all he did was ask questions—about everything. He was a knowledge sponge. He really put a lot of people off because they thought he was challenging them. That wasn’t true at all. He was complimenting them. He just assumed that they knew what they were talking about. If it was knitting, he knew he wasn’t an expert, so he assumed the other person was. And from a practical standpoint they were. He quizzed me excessively about the film Citizen Kane. I was thrilled about it; very few people care enough to ask questions about the things you care about. Anyway, clearly, I have a model of him and I doubt if I spent more time with him, it would change. People don’t have to be ineffable to be interesting. It doubtless helps that we are both intellectual sponges, just of different types.

But as I think you can tell from all of this, I may have a thinking tendency—a need to take data and organize it into theoretical models. But this is not Mr. Spock kind of thinking. Regardless, my thinking function is not all that pronounced. What is most pronounced is my “introversion” and “intuition” functions. And that’s why I think I notice the little things but commonly hit my head on clearly visible obstacles. (That is not hyperbole.) So the data I get to work with are fascinating and varied, but not necessarily reliable. Thus the fun of getting to reevaluate an entire person based on the inflection of a single word, as opposed to, say, the corpse rotting in their bathtub that I overlooked.

All of this is to say that I totally have you figured out. Until I don’t. But it will not take long for me once again to have you totally figured out. And that’s all there is to it. Unless you are Mark.


Regular readers know how much I love tests! If you want, you can take the test (72 yes/no questions) and then read all about yourself on Wikipedia! History shows that most of the people who can put up with me are INFPs. There are some Ss and Ts in there, but the I and P are extremely common. The J types are far too reasonable to waste time reading me. And the E types have friends to meet at that bar everyone goes to. Or to put it the Frankly Curious way, “The Js are boring and the Es are all drunks!”

A Tale of Two Krauthammers

Charles KrauthammerI’ve been pretty clear about my thinking regarding the filibuster over the years. And most recently, I even discussed the whole question of hypocrisy, arguing that one could reasonably have been in favor of keeping the filibuster in 2005 but be against keeping it now. It absolutely doesn’t work the other way around. Filibuster abuse is far worse now than then. If it was a good idea to get rid of it in 2005, it’s an even better idea now. End of story.

This leads up to that great icon of conservatism Charles Krauthammer. Jonathan Chait was nice enough to do a little Googling for us, Today in Hackery. On 13 May 2005, Krauthammer wrote, Nuclear? No, Restoration.

Two hundred years of tradition has been radically and unilaterally changed by the minority. Why? The reason is obvious. Democrats have not had a very good run recently in the popularly elected branches. Since choosing the wrong side of the culture wars of the 1960s, they have won only three of the past 10 presidential elections. A decade ago they lost control of the House for the first time in 40 years, and now have lost all the elected branches. They are in a panic that they will lose their one remaining ability to legislate—through the courts…

If Republicans accept this kind of deal [the Gang of 14], they are fools. They have a perfectly constitutional, perfectly reasonable case for demanding an up-or-down vote on judicial nominees, and they should not be throwing it away for a mess of potage and fuzzy promises…

The Democrats have unilaterally shattered one of the longest-running traditions in parliamentary history worldwide. They are not to be rewarded with a deal. They must either stop or be stopped by a simple change of Senate procedure that would do nothing more than take a 200-year-old unwritten rule and make it written.

What the Democrats have done is radical. What [Republican Majority Leader] Frist is proposing is a restoration.

But it is eight years later. The Republicans now filibuster virtually everything. They commonly filibuster appointees who go on to be unanimously approved. The situation is far, far, far worse than it was in 2005. If what the Democrats were doing then was “radical,” what the Republicans are doing now is “super doubleplus radical.” So he’s all for what Harry Reid did, right? Well, I’ll give you a clue; his Thanksgiving column was titled, An Outbreak of Lawlessness. Ready or not, Dr. Charles Krauthammer:

For all the gnashing of teeth over the lack of comity and civility in Washington, the real problem is not etiquette but the breakdown of political norms, legislative and constitutional…

A Senate with no rules. A president without boundaries. One day, when a few bottled-up judicial nominees and a malfunctioning health-care Web site are barely a memory, we will still be dealing with the toxic residue of this outbreak of authoritative lawlessness.

Yeah, whatever. In his defense, he’s not being completely hypocritical. Now he’s saying that the problem isn’t getting rid of the filibuster. It is how the filibuster was gotten rid of. The problem is that how the filibuster was removed now is exactly the way it was going to be removed in 2005: the Constitutional option. This is a typical rhetorical device that provides him with wiggle room if anyone confronts him on Fox News.

I know Charles Krauthammer really well. He’s the kind of conservative pundit that my father likes, so I try to stay up on what he’s talking about. I know what appeals to my father. He’s soft spoken. He uses “the other side says” as a rhetorical device that makes him sound like he’s looking at both sides of the argument. But he is just a conservative hack. The right wing is full of them. This is the same game played by George Will, David Brooks, and Avik Roy. It was perfected by William Buckley. But it is all the same. The only time one of these guys goes off script is when one of them finds out one of his kids is gay.

Charles Krauthammer: king of the hacks.


Just in case anyone is worried, Charles Krauthammer’s physical problems (he was paralyzed in a swimming accident when he was 20) do not seem to have affected his ability to procreate. He has a son from his marriage four years after the accident. I’m very impressed with how Krauthammer has managed to live his life with his disabilities. It’s just too bad they haven’t made him any less of a right wing hack.

Conservatives Hate Obamacare for No Reason

Cornelius KellyAs you’ve probably heard, the website is now working quite well. But I had the unpleasant experience of hearing Charles Krauthammer on Fox News yesterday. Do you know what he was saying about Obamacare and Exactly what he was saying a month ago! Now instead of claiming that Obamacare is hopeless because the website wasn’t working, it is that Obamacare is hopeless because it has a 1% error rate. He even had the pea-brained idea that the government can’t do anything right because Amazon is able to manage a much larger flow of traffic with less difficulty. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, Amazon has been in business for almost 20 years. Second, and much more importantly, what Amazon does is trivial compared to what does.

The point is that the conservative complaints in general, and the Fox News complaints in particular are of no value. They hate Obamacare and they will attack it no matter what. Their actual argument against healthcare reform is that it taxes the rich and gives health insurance to the poor. But clearly, that won’t fly. Even most die hard Republicans would find that argument repellent. So they use the “government can’t do anything” argument and grasp at any and every problem that comes along. And, let us not forget, they make up problems.

Yesterday, the always great Aaron Carroll wrote, Media Madness, ACA Edition. It was yet another Fox News report about the evils of Obamacare. In this case, it was a couple that couldn’t get insurance for their one and a half year old child because Obamacare mandates that children must be at least two years old before they get insurance. It’s laughable on its face. This is a couple with four children and the insurance company supposedly said, “Father, mother, three kids? Fine. But that toddler? No way!” It turned out that when daddy was filling out the forms, he only listed three of the children, apparently forgetting that he had a fourth.

Of course, that part of the story was not reported on Fox News. Why would it be? It doesn’t make Obamacare look bad. And it isn’t news. I think that everyone knows that if you buy an insurance policy for 5 people, that insurance policy will not cover anyone other than those 5 people. But there’s more to the story. The father is Cornelius Kelly, a prominent member of the Conservative Party of New York State, a group of people who think the Republican Party is too liberal. In 2012, they went after Republicans who voted for same-sex marriage. So clearly, he had an ax to grind against Obamacare.

But that’s the thing: conservatives hate Obamacare. But unlike what they say, they don’t actually think it will be a disaster. They think it will work really well. And that will just show once again that conservatives are against every good policy idea for no reason other than their commitment to enrich the rich and impoverish the poor. But the better Obamacare does, the less we will hear from these people. But it won’t go away completely. There are still conservatives who are trying to dismantle Social Security and that’s been law for almost 80 years!


Carroll noted the following that I think can’t be stressed enough:

I’m sorry, but I find it somewhat hypocritical that only now, after decades of about 50 million people being uninsured every year, that suddenly the media is outraged by stories of people (healthy, mind you) having difficulties finding insurance. Really? Suddenly this is an issue? Didn’t seem like it before…

Cause We’re the Fishes

Syd BarrettSince I was quite young, I’ve been a big Syd Barrett fan. For those who don’t know, he was for all intents and purposes the founder of Pink Floyd. And with all due respect to the other members of the band and all the great work they did, it was Barrett who put them on the psychedelic music road that they pursued. Most people just know his work from the first Pink Floyd album The Piper at the Gates of Dawn and the single “See Emily Play.” If you haven’t heard it, you owe it to yourself to. I think it has the seeds of everything good that Pink Floyd would become without the ponderous Roger Waters lyrics that would eventually destroy the band:

Last night, I listened to all four of the other members of the band discuss what Syd Barrett is mostly remembered for: his mental illness. The folklore is that Barrett was an “acid casualty.” He took so much LSD that he went insane. This certainly seems to be what the band members think. But I don’t buy it. No doubt the drugs made his condition worse. But Barrett began showing signs of schizophrenia at exactly the age that the disease manifests. What’s more, schizophrenics tend to gravitate toward drugs such as LSD and amphetamines. So I think it works the other way around. (I just found a good Wikipedia page on the subject: LSD and Schizophrenia that largely agrees with me.)

What was most interesting in the interviews is how much guilt the band members feel about not getting Barrett help. I think that’s valid in the sense that they let him fall in with a bad group who did him harm. But I seriously doubt that professional help would have been beneficial. Even today, I think treatments for schizophrenia are of marginal value. Forty-five years ago it would have been a total waste. The best thing for Barrett was what eventually happened: he returned home and lived with his mother where he lived a quiet life painting, gardening, and writing.

In between his time with Pink Floyd and his retirement, he released two albums The Madcap Laughs and Barrett. I think they are both masterpieces in different ways, although it seems even today that people jeer at the later album. Here is a taste of it, “Golden Hair” with lyrics by James Joyce

But contrast it with the last song on Barrett, the wonderfully silly “Effervescing Elephant”:

But finally, I want to present to you something really special. “Terrapin” is the first song on Barrett’s first album. For those who don’t know, a terrapin is a fresh water turtle. The song has only the vaguest of connections to these wonderful creatures. But it does make a certain intuitive sense. What makes this video special is that David Gilmour is performing it. The guitar work is just perfect; I’m sure that Syd would have appreciated it. His singing is a bit muddy (Syd was always a better singer), but it is still a delight:

Heart of Joseph Conrad

Joseph ConradOn this day in 1755, the great American painter Gilbert Stuart was born. He was mostly a portrait painter, but he did a lot of stuff and his work is really beautiful. Unfortunately, he is known for what I consider a pretty boring unfinished painting. I’m sure you know it. If you are my age, it hung in your grammar school principal’s office. It is the painting of George Washington, also known as The Athenaeum.

The Austrian composer Anton Webern was born in 1883. He was the most important student of Arnold Schoenberg and his twelve-tone technique. But Webern took it further into what we now call “total serialism.” If anything, I like Webern better than later Schoenberg. But I like early Schoenberg a lot more than Webern. Twelve-tone technique is interesting. But it rarely if ever works for a whole piece. Take, for example, Opus 27: Variations for Piano. The third (last) movement is based upon the following tone row:

Variations for Piano - Webern - Tone Row

Having played around with it a bit on the guitar, I find that I can actually make it work in pleasant ways. But I’m no music genius. What Webern does with it is make it as difficult as possible for the listener. At this point, I’m quite familiar with the tone row, and I barely hear it. See if you can:

The great cinematographer Sven Nykvist was born in 1922. He is most associated with Ingmar Bergman, most notably in Cries and Whispers, which has a very distinct look to it. Americans are more familiar with his work on things like Bob Fosse’s Star 80 and Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors. Interestingly, I just picked up Through a Glass Darkly to watch, most likely later today.

Other birthdays: activist Octavia Hill (1838); overrated direct Jean-Luc Godard (83); disgusting human being Ozzy Osbourne is retiring today; actor Daryl Hannah (53); and actor Julianne Moore is (53).

The day, however, belongs to Joseph Conrad who was born on this day in 1857. In my mind, he is so mixed up with Herman Melville. Of course, there really is no comparison. For one thing, they are two generations removed from each other. Although I tend to prefer Melville with his alcoholic strangeness, there is no doubt that Conrad is the better writer. While I would never call Milville sentimental, his work was old fashioned and labored. Conrad is in many ways the first American modernist novelist. Writing really didn’t change much from him until the publication of Naked Lunch.

Of course, it is hard for me to love Conrad too much. He was something of a philosophical whiner. A fatalist to the core, he couldn’t see any way for society to be organized correctly. I respect that sentiment. But in him, it took a nasty turn against democracy. The basic tendency was typical of men of his time. But a practical approach is always the best and I tire of people who think the only solutions to our woes are perfect theoretical constructs. Still, he left us a lot of good literature.

Happy birthday Joseph Conrad!