Category Archives: friendship

How to tell a genius from a nut.

In my time in college, as a student, grad student, and professor, I ran into quite a few geniuses and quite a few weirdos. Most of the geniuses were weird, but most of the weirdos were not geniuses. Many geniuses drank or smoked pot, most drunks and stoners were stupid, paranoids. My problem was finding a reasonably quick way to tell the geniuses from the nuts; tell Einsteins from I’m-stoned.kennedy thought

Only quick way I found is by their friends. If someone’s friends are dullards, chances are they are too. Related to this is humility. Most real geniuses have a body of humility that can extent to extreme self-doubt. They are aware of what they don’t know, and are generally used to skepticism and having to defend their ideas. A genius will do so enthusiastically, happy to have someone listen; a non genius will bristle at tough questions, responding by bluster, bragging, name dropping, and insult. A science genius will do math, and will show you interesting math stuff just for fun, a nut will not. Nuts will use big words will have few friends you’d want to hang with. A real genius uses simple words.

Another tell, those with real knowledge are knowledgeable on what others think (there’s actually a study on this). That is, they are able to speak in the mind-set of others, pointing out the logic of the other side, and practical differences where the other side would be right. There should be a clear reason to come on one side or the other, and not just a scream of frustration that you don’t agree. The ability to see the world through others’ eyes is not a proof they are right — some visionary geniuses have been boors, but it is a tell. Besides boors are no fun to be with; they are worth avoiding if possible.

education test treeAnd what of folks who are good to talk to; decent, loyal, humble, and fun, but turn out to be not-geniuses. I’d suggest looking a little closer. At the worst, these are good friends, boon companions, and decent citizens — far more enjoyable to deal with than the boors. But if you look closer, you may find a genius in a different area — a plumbing genius, or a police genius, or a short-order cook genius. One of my some-time employees is a bouncer-genius. He works as a bouncer and has the remarkable ability to quite people down, or throw them out, without causing a fight — it’s not an easy skill. In my political work trying to become drain commissioner, I ran into a sewage genius, perhaps two. These are hard-working people that I learn from.

People make the mistake of equating genius with academia, but that’s just a very narrow slice of genius. They then compound the mistake by looking at grades. It pays to look at results and to pay respects accordingly. To quote an old joke/ story: what do you call the fellow who graduated at the bottom of his medical school class? “Doctor” He or she is a doctor. And what do you call the fellow who graduated at the bottom of his law school class? “your honor.”

Robert Buxbaum, November 27, 2017.

Race and suicide

Suicide is generally understood as a cry of desperation. If so, you’d expect that the poorer, less-powerful, less-mobile members of society — black people, Hispanics, and women — would be the most suicidal. The opposite is true. While black people and Hispanics have low savings, and mobility, they rarely commit suicide. White Protestants and Indians are the most suicidal groups in the US; Blacks, Hispanics, Jews, Catholics, Moslems, Orientals, are significantly less prone. And black, non-Hispanic women are the least suicidal group of all — something I find rather surprising.

US, Race-specific suicide, all ages, Center for Disease control 2002-2012

US, Race-specific suicide, all ages, Center for Disease control 2002-2012

Aha, I hear you say: It’s the stress of upward mobility that causes suicide. If this were true, you’d expect Asians would have a high suicide rate. They do not, at least not American Asians. Their rate (male + female) is only 6.5/100,000, even lower than that for Afro-Americans. In their own countries, it’s different, and Japanese, Chinese, and Koreans commit suicide at a frightening rate. My suspicion is that American Asians feel less trapped by their jobs, and less identified too. They do not feel shame in their company’s failures, and that’s a good, healthy situation. In Korea, several suicides were related to the Samsung phones that burst into flames. While there is some stress from upward mobility, suggested by the suicide rates for Asian-American females being higher than for other woman, it’s still half that of non-hispanic white women, and for women in China and Korea. This suggests, to me, that the attitude of Asian Americans is relatively healthy.

The only group with a suicide rate that matches that of white protestants is American Indians, particularly Alaskan Indians. You’d figure their rate would be high given the alcoholism, but you’d expect it to be similar to that for South-American Hispanics, as these are a similar culture, but you’d be wrong, and it’s worthwhile to ask why. While men in both cultures have similar genes, suffer financially, and are jailed often, American Indians are far more suicidal than Mexican Americans. It’s been suggested that the difference is religiosity or despair. But if Indians despair, why don’t Mexicans or black people? I find I don’t have a completely satisfactory explanation, and will leave it at that.

Age-specific suicide rates.

Age-specific suicide rates, US, all races, 2012, CDC.

Concerning age, you’d probably guess that teenagers and young adults would be most suicidal — they seem the most depressed. This is not the case. Instead, middle age men are twice as likely to commit suicide as teenage men, and old men, 85+, are 3.5 times more suicidal. The same age group, 85+ women, is among the least suicidal. This is sort-of surprising since they are often in a lot of pain. Why men and not women? My suspicion is that the difference, as with the Asians has to do with job identification. I note that middle age is a particularly important time for job progress, and note that men are more-expected to hold a job and provide than women are. When men feel they are not providing –or worse –see themselves as a drag on family resources, they commit suicide. At least, this is my explanation.

It’s been suggested that religion is the consolation of women and particularly of black women and Catholics. I find this explanation doubtful as I have no real reason to think that old women are more religious than old men, or that Protestants and Indians are less religious than Hispanics, Asians, Moslems, and Jews. Another difference that I (mostly) reject is that access to guns is the driver of suicide. Backing this up is a claim in a recent AFSP report, that women attempt suicide three times more often than men. That men prefer guns, while women prefer pills and other, less-violent means is used to suggest that removal of guns would (or should) reduce suicide. Sorry to say, a comparison between the US and Canada (below) suggests the opposite.

A Centers for Disease Control study (2012) found that people doing manual labor jobs are more prone to suicide than are people in high-strew, thinking jobs. That is, lumberjacks, farmers, fishermen, construction workers, carpenters, miners, etc. All commit suicide far more than librarians, doctors, and teachers, whatever the race. My suspicion is that it’s not the stress of the job so much, as the stress of unemployment between gigs. The high suicide jobs, it strikes me, are jobs one would identify with (I’m a lumberjack, I’m a plumber, etc. ) and short term. I suspect that the men doing these jobs (and all these are male-oriented jobs) tend to identify with their job, and tend to fall into a deadly funk when their laid off. They can not sit around the house. Then again, many of these jobs go hand in hand with heavy drinking and an uncommon access to guns, poison, and suicidal opportunities.

zc-percentage-total-suicides-by-method-2000-2003-ca-2007-us

Canadians commit suicide slightly more often than Americans, but Canadians do it mostly with rope and poison, while more than half of US suicides are with guns.

I suspect that suicide among older men stems from the stress of unemployment and the boredom of sitting around feeling useless. Older women tend to have hobbies and friends, while older men do not. And older men seem to feel they are “a burden” if they can no-longer work. Actor Robin Williams, as an example, committed suicide, supposedly, because he found he could not remember his lines as he had. And Kurt Gödel (famous philosopher) just stopped eating until he died (apparently, this is a fairly uncommon method). My speculation is that he thought he was no longer doing productive work and concluded “if I don’t produce, I don’t deserve to eat.” i’m going to speculate that the culture of women, black men, Hispanics, Asians, etc. are less bound to their job, and less burdened by feelings of worthlessness when they are not working. Clearly, black men have as much access to guns as white men, and anyone could potentially fast himself to death.

I should also note that people tend to commit suicide when they lose their wife or husband; girlfriend or boyfriend. My thought is that this is similar to job identification. It seems to me that a wife, husband, or loved one is an affirmation of worth, someone to do for. Without someone to do for, one may feel he has nothing to live for. Based on the above, my guess about counseling is that a particularly good approach would be to remind people in this situation that there are always other opportunities. Always more fish in the sea, as it were. There are other women and men out there, and other job opportunities. Two weeks ago, I sent a suicidal friend a link to the YouTube of Stephen Foster’s song, “there are plenty of fish in the sea” and it seemed to help. It might also help to make the person feel wanted, or needed by someone else — to involve him or her is some new political or social activity. Another thought, take away the opportunity. Since you can’t easily take someone’s gun, rope, or pills — they’d get mad and suspicious –I’d suggest taking the person somewhere where these things are not — a park, the beach, a sauna or hot-tub, or just for a walk. These are just my thoughts, I’m a PhD engineer, so my thinking may seem odd. I try to use numbers to guide my thought. If what I say makes sense, use it at your own risk.

Robert Buxbaum, June 21, 2017.Some other odd conclusions: that Hamilton didn’t throw away his shot, but tried to kill Burr. That tax day is particularly accident prone, both in the US and Canada, and that old people are not particularly bad drivers, but they drive more dangerous routes (country roads, not highways).

Global warming and the president’s Resolute desk

In the summer of 2016, the Crystal Serenity, a cruse ship passed through the Northwest passage, going from the Pacific to the Atlantic above the Canadian arctic circle. It was a first for a cruise ship, but the first time any modern ship made the passage, it was 162 years ago, and the ship was wooden and unmanned. It was the British Resolute; wood from that ship was used to make the President’s main desk — one used by the last four presidents. And thereby hangs a tale of good global warming, IMHO.

President Trump meets with college presidents at the Resolute desk. Originally the front had portraits of Queen Victoria and President Hayes. Those are gone; the eagle on the front is an addition, as is the bottom stand.

President Trump meets with college presidents at the Resolute desk. Originally the front had portraits of Queen Victoria and President Hayes. Those are gone; the eagle on the front is an addition, as is the bottom stand. The desk is now 2″ taller than originally. 

The world today is warmer than it was in 1900. But, what is not generally appreciated is that, in 1900 the world was warmer than In 1800; that in 1800 it was warmer than in 1700; and that, in 1640, it was so cold there were regular fairs on the frozen river Themes. By the 1840s there were enough reports of global warming that folks in England thought the northwest passage might have opened at last. In 1845 the British sent two ships, the Erebus and the Terror into the Canadian Arctic looking for the passage. They didn’t make it. They and their crews were lost and not seen again until 2014. In hopes of finding them though, the US and Britain sent other ships, including the Resolute under the command of captain Edward Belcher.

The Resolute was specially made to withstand the pressure of ice. Like the previous ships, and the modern cruise ship, it entered the passage from the Pacific during the peak summer thaw. Like the ships before, the Resolute and a partner ship got stuck in the ice — ice that was not quite stationary, but nearly so, The ships continued to move with the ice, but at an unbearably slow pace. After a year and a half captain Belcher had moved a few hundred miles, but had had enough. He abandoned his ships and walked out of Canada to face courts martial in England (English captains were supposed to “go down with the ship”). Belcher was acquitted; the ice continued to move, and the ships moved with it. One ship sank, but the Resolute, apparently unscathed, passed through to the Atlantic. Without captain or crew, she was the first ship in recorded history to make the passage, something that would not happen again till the Nautilus nuclear submarine did it under the ice, 100 years later.

 

The ghost ship Resolute was found in September 1855, five years after she set sail, by captain Buddington of the American whaler, George Henry. She was floating, unmanned, 1200 miles from where captain Belcher had left her. And according to the law of the sea, she belonged to Buddington and his crew to use as they saw fit. But the US was inching to war with Britain, an outgrowth of the Crimean war and seized Russo-American property. Franklin Pierce thought it would help to return the ship as a sign of friendship — to break the ice, as it were. A proposal for funds was presented to congress and passed; the ship was bought, towed to the Brooklyn Navy yard for refitting, and returned to Britain as a gift. The gift may have worked: war with Britain was averted, and the seized property was returned. Then again, Britain went on to supply the confederacy early in the Civil War. None-the-less, it was a notable ship, and a notable gift, and when it was broken up, Parliament decided to have two “friendship desks” made of its timbers. One desk was presented to President Hayes, the other to Queen Victoria. One of these desks sits the British Naval museum at Portsmouth; its American cousin serves Donald Trump in the Oval office as it has served many president before him. It has been used by Coolidge, Kennedy, Carter, Reagan, Clinton, Bush II, and Obama before him — a reminder that global warming can be good, in both senses. If you are interested in the other presidents’ desks, I wrote a review of them here.

As for the reason for the global warming of the mid 1800s, It seems that climate is chaotic. ON a related note, I have proposed that we make a more-permanent northwest passage by cutting thorough one of the islands in northern Canada. If you want to travel the Northwest passage in 2017, there is another cruise scheduled, but passage is sold out.

Robert Buxbaum, March 16, 2017.

1939, when East and West became friends and partners

Forward Marx

The large mustache, Soviet Socialist it seems is very much like his neighbor, the small mustache, National Socialist.

In August, 1939, just about 77 years ago to the day, Germany and the Soviet union signed a non-aggression pact — The Molotov von Ribbentrop agreement. The open text suggested peace, but there was a secret rider that was made widely available. The large mustache soviet socialist and the small mustache national socialist had divided up the land between them. “In case there was war,” Russia would get Lithuania, Finland, Eastern Poland, and Bessarabia (Northern Romania). Germany would get Denmark, Western Poland, and Greece.

Commemoration of the Soviet -German non-aggression pact, August 1939.

Commemoration of the Soviet – German non-aggression pact, August 1939.

Up till then, we in the US assumed that these nations were bitter enemies and that their enmity would protect us. It turned out they were friends, or at least that they had the common goal of conquest and domination. Both were socialists in the sense that they did not respect the property rights of their neighbors. In the cartoon at right, Uncle Sam is standing on the battlements, looking stupid, holding his useless umbrella (The League of Nations? US foreign policy?). The title, “Watchman, What of the Night.” Is from Isaiah. In August, 1939 night was most definitely coming along with a combined storm of aggression from Germany and the USSR.

I’m posting this as a reminder that East and West are more similar than is generally believed. That left and right too are often useless distinctions. That folks will generally seek their own advantage over philosophical purity, and over the advantage of the US. Internationalism, thus, is not a panacea for peace. Generally speaking, I suspect that Flavius’s dictum still applies: “if you wish for peace, prepare for war.” Also, I had these great cartoons, courtesy of my friend, Jim Wald.

Robert Buxbaum, August 25, 2016. People often forget/ ignore that the USSR started its part of WWII by invading Finland and Poland. Finland resisted invasion a lot better than Poland. So well that, when Germany broke the agreement and Russia became our friend, Finland became our enemy– sort-of. They were still fighting Russia. And, in the East, Russia remained an ally of Japan for another year, even briefly after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. This made sending aid to Russia problematic, though Roosevelt did it. I’ve written about WWII in terms of mustaches because, to me, it makes as much sense as anything, and more sense than east vs west.

Celebrating the Eids of March

March 15, the eids of March. On this date in 44 BC (2060 years ago) 5 centuries of republican rule in Rome came to an end to be followed by chaos, civil war, and then Empire. Augustus, Claudius, Nero. That was not the aim of the senators and colleagues of Julius Caesar when they took to assassinate Julius Caesar, first citizen of Rome. They acted out of excessive republican purity, and excessive fear. Their aim was for a pure republicanism where there would be no first citizen, and their fear was that Julius might become the emperor – the emperor that Augustus, Claudius, and Nero became.

Brutus on the face side of an Eids March coin, with two daggers and the legend "Eid Mar" on the obverse. Clearly the conspirators were proud of their act

Brutus on the face side of this Roman coin and two daggers and the legend “Eid Mar” on the obverse. The conspirators were proud of their act.

Shakespeare considers Brutus to be the noblest Roman of them all, but Dante considers him among the worst of the worst. Dante’s Devine Comedy consigns Brutus to the very center of Hell along with Cassius and Judas. What do you think? BTW, why it’s this a comedy?

The difference between a republican government and a democracy is that a democracy can elect a dictator (as Germany did and Iran has) or can choose to execute a citizen for being annoying to the majority, as democratic Athens did to Socrates. In a republic, even the majority is bound by a set of constitutional limitation providing some-measure of inviolable rights, generally that life, liberty, and property can not be taken without due process or the violation of a more-or-less clear law. All other systems are, to a greater or less extent a rule of whim. When the founders of the US picked a model for government, they picked republican Rome, not democratic Athens nor a limited monarchy as existed in England. Their motivation was the observation that power corrupts, and that inequality under the law attracts the worst elements to the position of least check on their power.

Mark Anthony and his wife, Octavia, Octavius's sister.

Mark Anthony and his wife, Octavia, Octavius’s sister.

The death of Caesar set forces in motion that would install Octavius (Augustus) Caesar and Anthony to take over as co-emperors. Here is a coin showing Mark Anthony with his wife, Octavius’s sister. already, neither look as lean as Brutus or Julius Caesar. Shortly thereafter, Octavius would have Mark Anthony killed to cement his power and republican rule would be over until 1776.

Robert E. (beware), March 14, 2016. I suspect this same drive for purity and fear is driving the Republican party today. Don’t fear the Rino, just make sure there is a balance of power.

Abraham ROFLed; Sarah LOLed.

Something is lost, and something else gained when the Bible is translated into modern terms. Some grandeur is lost, some weight, but what is gained is a sense of intimacy, a personal relationship to the events and people.

Consider, for example, Abraham’s reaction when God reveals that he will have a son (Gen. 17:17). The King James translation is “Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?” There’s grandeur, but the event is distant from me.

Similarly, The Living Torah, “Then Abraham bowed down to the ground, but he laughed to himself in disbelief. ‘How could I become a father at the age of 100?’ he thought. ‘And how can Sarah have a baby when she is ninety years old?'”

I don’t find this translation relatable either. To me, it would be better to say that Abraham did the first ROTFL (Roll on the floor laughing): “Abraham ROFLed, how grand to have a son at 100 years…” It brings up a pleasant image: of Abraham as a man of red face and good humor, a hearty companion, and a good host. Someone you’d want to visit, not a stick-in-the-mud who you visit because he owns the last hotel on the road to Sodom.

Not totally the way I see it: Sarah looks stunned, but at least this captures a jolly Abraham.

Not totally the way I see it: Sarah looks stunned, but at least this captures a jolly Abraham.

And the same with Abraham’s wife, Sarah. Her home is full of dusty tourist guests, and she feeds them steak. Do you see a silent martyr, or a jolly sort who genuinely likes guests. This is important because we are to learn from these stories, Too often the doctors of the religion seem to want martyrs, but my read of Genesis is that sh’s jolly.. Sarah listens to the tales of her guests, and when one says she will have a child at 90, she LOLs (laughs out loud, Gen. 18:12) “So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, ‘I’m old and my husband is too, will I have fun!” If God wants something weird Sarah is up for it. To her, it sounds like fun. And after that, “Will I nurse a child?!.”

I note that these are the paradigms of humanity, individuals that God loved, and spoke to at length. So lets do the same, be open to the positive, weird future, wherever God takes us. Let’s behave as God himself does. For, as we find Psalms (2:4), “He, who sits in the heavens, laughs; He mocks those who plan against HIm.” Now, ask the doctors of your religion, why are you so serious, when “He, who sits in the heavens, laughs”

Robert E. Buxbaum, January 12, 2016. This is my third essay on religion, all of them, I guess on the lighter side. In the first, I note that science and religion are opposites, In the follow-up, that secular philosophy and religion are uncomfortable competitors, and now that God likes the jolly (you probably prefer the jolly, too.)

A day of thanksgiving during the civil war

At the height of the civil war, Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a day of thanksgiving for the last Thursday of November, 1863. It’s the first time Thanksgiving was proclaimed for the date we now keep every year. The war was not going well. The Union defeat at Chickamauga, Sept. 19-20 1863, left 35,000 dead, the bloodiest two days in US history. Most citizens would have called for a day of fasting and prayer, but in Lincoln’s view, things were good, and there was a need for joy and thanksgiving:

“to thank the Almighty God” …for.. “the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies… “for peace that…. “has been preserved with all nations.” [That] “harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict….  “a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens”…. and for … “the care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife.”  (see the whole proclamation here.)

A Civil War Thanksgiving. It's fellowship that makes peace possible.

A Civil War Thanksgiving. It’s fellowship that makes peace possible.

His was an interesting view, as important then as now. There is a need to remember that the good we have is more than the bad, and that there is a source of the good. As of today (2015) the economy is good in Michigan and the US. We are at peace with our neighbors and have civil obedience in our streets; we have food on our tables and clothes on our backs. We have cleaner air and cleaner water than in decades, blue skies, and plentiful rain. The ozone hole has shrunk, and global warming seems to have stopped. We have so much food that hardly anyone in our country suffers starvation, but only the hunger for finer, fancy things. We have roads without bandits, lighting at the flip of a switch, water at the turn of a tap, indoor heat, and (for most) indoor cooling in the summer. We have telephone communication, and radio, and television, and music at our fingertips. We have libraries with books, and free childhood education. We have a voice in our government, and information from the far ends of the earth. All these call for joy and thanksgiving.

And we can even find a cause for thanks in the things we don’t have: space travel and the diseases we can’t cure, for example. The things we don’t have provide a reason to wake up in the morning, and a motivation to do great things. We live in a country where we can change things, and it’s nice to know there are things worth changing. For ideas that lack expression, we can provide it. For diseases, we can still search for a cure. For those who lack happiness and friendship, we can help provide both (a joyful celebration is a good occasion to do so). For those who lack a job, we can help. And to those who feel a lack of meaning in life, perhaps the best answer is a celebration to explore the source of all blessings. Let us reach out to “all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers.” A lesson Scrooge learned from the ghosts is that joy and generous celebration are self-sustaining and attractive. Let joy and good fellowship extend to all. God Bless us each and every one.

Robert Buxbaum, Detroit, November 18, 2015, The anniversary of Lincoln’s Gettysburg address is tomorrow, Nov. 19th (it wasn’t well received). As for Black Friday shopping, lets not get up from the table of thanks to jostle each other for some useless trinket.