Category Archives: Psychological Musings

To answer the President’s question

“Why Are We Having All These People From Shithole Countries Come Here?” President Donald Trump

First of all, even though it was in-artfully said, it is a legitimate question. I’m going to define shithole country as any country tourists don’t want to go to. As an example, I don’t know anybody who went to Nigeria and stayed in a hotel in the capital, Abuja, on vacation. Abuja is a pretty fair-sized city of 2,440,000  and I bet it is interesting as hell. However, for the sake of this conversion,  I’m going to call Nigeria, a shithole country by the arbitrary definition that it is not a tourist destination. I mean, nobody is going to call France a shithole country (except when they didn’t want to put troops into Iraq, but they were a shithole country then because they were hard to boss around not because nobody wants to go there). So I’m going with  Nigeria. 

As I understand Trump’s question, If we don’t want to go to Nigeria, why do we want Nigerians to come here? Well, there are already about 275,000 Nigerians that have come here and a fair question is How are they doing? Nigerians, it turns out, are a hugely successful immigrant community, as are other African immigrants. According to Bloomberg, Nigerian immigrants “have a median household income well above the American average, and above the average of many white and Asian groups, such as those of Dutch or Korean descent.” Dutch or Korean success is a pretty high bar, but Nigerians are well-educated people – who value education – whose education level is way above our National average. A high proportion are Doctors and Engineers and this is a community that adds more to the country than their less educated European immigrant brethren. 

And, if you take longer to look at it than Trump obviously took, educated, ambitious, people are more likely to leave shithole countries because these countries are usually more violent and have more limited opportunities, than, say, Belgium. To answer Trump’s question, we should invite people in from shithole countries because they are the people who will Make America great again.


A thought on the way to cardiac rehab

I go to a cardiac rehab class at 8:30 in the morning, three times a week. I started when I had my aorta valve replaced by a new one, manufactured out of cow parts, and I have been going pretty much ever since. When I was working, I went to the 7:00 AM class but now I go to the 8:30 class. Anyway, I hit the only traffic light on my drive at about 8:15 and, except for the lull during the Christmas season, I always have to wait at the light. This morning, waiting for the light to change, maybe ten cars in front of me, a jogger was also waiting; standing by the side of the road in the shadow of a row of trees, under an already dark and brooding sky. I could barely see her but I was surprised she was wearing pants with huge legs, what we used to call palazzo pants in the 60s, and I could just barely make out her ponytail. Then the light changed and the cars started slowly moving forward and, as I got closer, the pants got thinner until they became regular jeans. Then I saw that it was a him not a her, and he didn’t have a ponytail. 

As I drove by the guy, I realized he wasn’t even a jogger, just a guy waiting for the light to change. It got me thinking about pattern recognition and our ability to see patterns, sometimes patterns that aren’t even there. We are hardwired to see patterns, all animals are. One of the easiest patterns to read are faces – two eyes over a nose and mouth hole – which are so easy to read that even computers and dumb animals can do it. As an aside, sheep are hardwired to run away from canine faces (think wolf for canine). Shepard dogs round up and control sheep by giving them the eye, essentially showing the sheep their eyes above a nose, to move sheep away from them. However, shepherds don’t want sheep guard dogs – think Old English Sheepdog or Komondor – to spook the sheep, they don’t want the sheep running away from their guard dogs, so they bred the guard dogs to have their eyes covered with hair thus thwarting the sheeps’ pattern recognition system. End aside. 

With just a little information, a shadowy figure by the side of the road, I saw a woman jogger with palazzo pants and she even had a ponytail. But most of the heavy lifting was done by my mind, filling in the blanks. It got me thinking about how often I must do that in other, non-visual, areas. What first came to mind was reading a snippet about Trump and then filling in the missing parts with parts that match my preconceived ideas. This is what makes political “dog whistles” work; Reagan says “inner city Welfare Queen driving a Cadilac” and our pattern recognition takes over from there.   

A Good Citizen?

Like most people, I think, we scoop out our cat’s litter box and put the contents in a plastic bag left over from some other use and then put the plastic bag, filled with cat urine, poop, and kitty litter in the trash. But, yesterday, Michele bought a box of biodegradable bags made especially for dog poop and by extension, usable for Precious Mae’s litter box waste. Both Michele and I feel like we are being better custodians of the environment and, therefore, better Citizens by eliminating the plastic bags we had used before. But, here is the rub, when Michele got home, she realized that some scoundrel had opened the box and stolen one of the three rolls of the biodegradable pet waste bags. Now we wonder, is the person who stole the third roll, presumably to use for their pet’s waste, also a good Citizen? Even though they stole them, by using these bags, the thief is also keeping plastic bags out of the environment and, it seems to me, the world is better off with two households eliminating plastic bags. Still, they did steal them. 

On being old and getting sick w/ some pictures of Superbike Racing

Last week, I walked out of a movie, feeling nauseous. By way of background, I have a cow heart valve, well, not exactly a valve, more of a valve part. It was installed in 2002 when my aorta started to give out. The valve leaflets had started to get calcium deposits and they were replaced with parts from a cow. As an aside, it isn’t really a cow valve, what I have is a valve part that has been manufactured from the cow’s pericardial sack, which is the tough tissue that encases the cow’s heart, by Edwards Lifesciences. I’m told that cow parts are used because the tissue is very similar to the tissue in a human valve. I’ve also been told – I don’t know for sure as I was anesthetized at the time – that the remanufactured valve parts arrive from the manufacturer, arrayed by size on some-sort of flesh like tray. I got the 25mm model. End aside.

Anyway, I was feeling nauseous and because of my cow valve, I started to low-grade panic. We ended up going home early, I went to bed, and the panic abated. The next morning, I felt punk but much better, then I had a piece of toast and a soft boiled egg and the nausea returned reinforcing my hope and belief that it was my stomach and not my heart. The next day Michele looked up nausea epidemics and said that there were bouts in New Hampshire, Yolo County, and Chipotles – I mentally added Portola Valley – and they usually ran for 24 to 72 hours. Now, at last, here is the point: I used to consider myself as having an iron stomach and, if it said 24 to 72 hours, it meant 12 hours for me, now I think, Oh, I’m on the 72-hour side of this time frame. It reminds me of a flue warning when they say “Be especially careful with children and old people.” and I realize I am the old people they are talking about. In this case, when the nausea ran past 72 hours, I started to panic again and, then, it was gone. I felt great, it was like a storm being pushed through by a warm front and after the storm everything is clear and bright. 


The whole experience has left me thinking about growing older and the differences between my reality and my expectations. Not in the main arc, I suppose, but in lots of little things. For example, every now and then, I mis-swallow, gagging slightly, I never did this when I was younger or, for the first time in 65, 70, years, since I was a young child, I now occasionally, accidentally,  bite the inside of my cheek or my lip. Now, my balance sucks but, when I was young, my balance was so good, I could walk the 2×4 top plate of a stud wall. Strangely, as I have gotten older, my sense of smell has increased and my eyesight has gotten better, two things I would not have predicted.

I want to end this post and am at a loss for a good ending, so I will leave it with a poem from the great Billy Collins:

The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read,
never even heard of,

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses goodbye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,

something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.

Whatever it is you are struggling to remember
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue,
not even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.

It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall,
well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those
who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.

No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.

Explain to me why North Korea is an existential problem


Across 25 years and five administrations, we have kicked the North Korean can down the road. We are now out of road. National Review

The threat, dubbed “the worst problem on earth,” has persisted across U.S. administrations and only grown more alarming over time. Outgoing President Barack Obama warned Trump during the transition that North Korea was the most urgent and vexing problem to confront. NPR

Across the political spectrum, all the news reports on North Korea act as if North Korea is an existential threat to the World and, especially, the United States. I don’t understand it. Nobody seems to have an explanation of why North Korea is such a big threat (I’m guessing somebody must have but if so, I missed it). We are told that Kim Jong-un is crazy and while he does seem to have a crazy haircut, he doesn’t seem to do crazy stuff. Except for the Kim Jong-uh is crazy stuff, nobody explains why North Korea is such a big problem, they just assume that you know, or everybody knows, that it is obvious.

What I do know, or think I know, at least is that North Korea is a country of about 25 million people ruled by Kim Jong-un, the grandson of Kim Il-sung, the dictator appointed by and backed by the, then, Soviet Union. North Korea is next to China in the north – and China is North Korea’s biggest trading partner and, theoretically, its biggest external influence – and South Korea in the south (duh!). Its people are starving poor and it still has a larger standing army than we do with (although it is considered to be ill-equipped by modern standards). What it does have is a limited nuclear capacity and an increasingly sophisticated ICBM program which North Korea is trying to parlay into an operational nuclear missile fleet – that’s probably the wrong word – capable of hitting anywhere in the United States. The treat of this program has scared the shit out of us going all the way back to the first Bush. The mainstream media have fanned these fears for over twenty-five years alternating between mocking Kim Jong-un – and he does seem easy to mock – and screaming “The sky is falling!” with no explanation of why this is such an existential problem.

What I think, or know I think, at least is that all this hysteria is made up, there is no real danger, North Korea is like a spoiled kid trying to get the world’s attention. Let’s just imagine, for a minute, that North Korea is fabulously successful in their schemes and they have a hundred nuclear-tipped ICBM ready to go. What are they going to do with them? Nothing, the same as Pakistan or Russia (Russia has about 7,300 nuclear warheads, with about 1800 ready to fire, by the way). If they use them on us or South Korea or Japan, the retaliation would annihilate North Korea along with the Kim Jong-un regime. The only thing a nuclear weapon does is prevent an attack. I read that North Korea is irrational to want nuclear weapon, I think it is irrational to not want them, just ask Moammar Kadafi. We have demonized North Korea since Jun 25, 1950, and we do have a record of attacking countries that we demonize. I think what North Korea wants is attention and the Kim Jong-un regime wants recognition as legitimate.

Demonizing North Korea sells newspapers and magazines, it gets people to watch the nightly news, and it gives the American regime in power a useful distraction. It does not contribute to a better world.