Friday, January 20, 2017

Thoughts on Inauguration Day, January 20 2017. This does not violate Godwin's Law.

Cloud Rorschach







Back in the day when I worked as a psychologist, I performed psychological evaluations and
taught graduate students how to do the same. I know there is a bunch of fantasy out there about psychological testing and 'putting people in boxes' and such. Let me tell you that testing and evaluations can be individual, specific, and valuable.

Anyhow. The Rorschach Ink Blot Procedure was one of my favorites from early on. It has been the subject of a lot of research, and, if you stick to said research, you can draw reliable conclusions. Now, the Rorschach took off as a clinical instrument (that is, a procedure whose findings can be accurate and useful with people) during WWII. As it happens, the Nuremburg Commission used psychological testing to have some independent measure of who the Nazi war criminals were, to understand better who they were dealing with. At the same time, testing was performed on rank-and-file Nazis in Denmark--self-identified active members of the Danish National Socialist Party who had not committed war crimes, but who had supported and furthered the Nazi activities. The history and outcomes of these assessments are detailed in an excellent book, The Quest for the Nazi Personality:  A Psychological Investigation of Nazi War Criminals, whose authors (Eric Zillmer, Molly Harrower, Barry Ritzler, and, Robert Archer) are extraordinarily competent and conscientious. It's a bit technical if you don't have the particular training, but it's a good read.

What were these outcomes? I will summarize. The Danish rank-and-file Nazis had some characteristic differences from non-Nazis. For instance, regarding problem-solving, they rarely possessed a dependable approach (e.g., "first things first" or "take the long view" or "practical answers" or "principled above all"). They tended to vacillate inefficiently, with great difficulty solving problems on their own. After such an inauspicious start, they tended to be easily influenced by others and then to adhere rigidly to approaches that had proved unsuccessful, rather than adapting their approach after failure. For all their expressed energy and outcry, they tended to be passive in the face of the actual problem.

Regarding their sense of self and of others, they were more likely to view themselves and others as objects to be manipulated and exploited or feared and hated (or all of these). They were not introspective and were likely to disregard feedback from real relationships--again, disregarding actual events and actual outcomes. Finally, and remember, this is from the Rorschach findings, independent of life events, they were likely to disavow responsibility for their actions and to see themselves as victims.

Does this describe any people you have seen or heard in the last year, interviewed on national television and radio at various rallies? Are you perhaps wondering how so many Americans can have voted for someone whose actions and statements were consistently--supply your preferred adjectives--without concluding that this person's claims were without supporting evidence?

Please understand:  I am not calling Trump or his supporters Nazis, except for the ones who call themselves Nazis. I am, however, struck (and discouraged) by certain similarities.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

New Year's Eve memories--Sylvesterabend, actually




For the end of one year and the start of another, shadows seem right to me. I suppose it's the notion of what has been done, what exists, casting influence over what is to come. Or maybe just feeling my way into signs of what blocks the light and thereby shows itself.

In any case, short days, early darkness, and long hours indoors have been reminding me of the period of my life when I visited Germany as often as I could, trying to be with a boyfriend who had--let's call them complicated feelings about me.


Last Night in Munich

 I waltzed, as one ought to,
on New Year’s Eve, M√ľnchen.
My guy’s law school buddies
were throwing a party,
to Strauss, of course, Danube,
and Emperor and Roses.
I danced in mulberry,
in platform shoes, mini dress.
It was the Seventies.
Earth-tones were over.

First Erhardt waltzed with me,
because you’re supposed to,
although as a rule
he preferred to ignore me.
Then Hannes, the blind guy
who played killer chess
with an uncanny spatial sense,
something I thought about
as he embraced me
and held me too close.

My boyfriend drove taxi
on holidays, weekends,
and this was a big night
for all the big drinkers,
but he had been gone nights
for most of my visit,
then slept through the daytime,
and I hadn’t sat in a plane sixteen hours
to still sleep alone.

At dawn he returned,
woke me up for my flight home.
Weird night, he said.
Picked up this guy at the opera house
right after Beethoven’s Ninth let out. You know.
Had me drive him a hour out into the country,
to this totally dark village crossroads.
Then back into town. “Midnight yet?”
Told him no. “Go again,” says he.
Four hours with him
in a taxi on New Year’s,
‘til midnight and after
and those were the only words out of his mouth.

And those were the only words out of his mouth.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Post-surgery notes from the cancer ward





My husband has been home from the hospital for six days, and is 13 days post-surgery. The surgeons believe they got everything--the mass, the nodes, the secondary lymph nodes. He is weak, and mostly incredulous at how weak he is. As he has been unobtrusively healthy his entire long life, he has never really experienced how much surgery in your body flattens you. The day of the surgery found high gusty winds, up to 55 mph, slamming trees against the windows of the waiting area. This made waiting even more unsettling than it already was.


Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Turing Test: a memory of mansplaining




I don't know why I recalled, this morning, an incident from 1983. I had recently been hired as a psychologist in a university counseling center. As new staff on a big campus, I decided to attend one of those well-intentioned social hours and get acquainted with some of the people outside my office. 

One guy approached me and we exchanged the usual identifications--degrees, schools, departments. He was in Computer Sciences. He asked me if I knew what the Turing Test was. Yes, I told him, I did know. He proceeded to explain it to me. Just so you know, the Turing test was proposed by Alan Turing, mathematician and problem-solver extraordinaire. In a 1950 paper entitled "The Imitation Game," Turing suggested that a test for intelligence in a computer would be to require that a human being should be unable to distinguish the machine from another human being by using the replies to questions put to both. I cannot remember whether or not I told the mansplainer that he had just flunked the Turing test.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

After the US election: Gore Vidal calls it in 1960

An oddly divided light on our bedroom ceiling



From Gore Vidal's 1960 play, The Best Man. Also a rather good movie after its successful run.


CANTWELL [conscience-less 'populist' candidate]
  I don't understand you.

RUSSELL [flawed but principled candidate]
  I know you don't. Because you have no sense of responsibility toward anybody or anything and that is a tragedy in a man and is a disaster in a President! You said you were religious. Well, I'm not. But I believe profoundly in this life and what we do to one another and how this monstrous "I," the self, must become "we" and draw the line at murder in the games we play with one another, and try to be good even when there is no one to force us to be good.

(CANTWELL rises. He speaks carefully, without rancor)
  You don't understand me. You don't understand politics and the way it is and the way this country is and the way we are. You are a fool.

RUSSELL
  We're not the way you think we are. At least not yet.